CAPITOL RECAP: Even during family gatherings, there's no holiday from pandemic, state says



By Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – As statewide COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations continue to increase, officials on Wednesday, Oct. 14, warned Illinoisans to take precautions ahead of upcoming holiday seasons.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois Department of Public Health director, said holiday celebrants should dine outside when possible, consider pre-plating food and having dishes served by a single person rather than serving buffet-style, and always wear masks when not eating or drinking.

Those hosting indoor gatherings should open windows and consider spacing out the gathering in multiple rooms or seating immediate family members together. The number of people going in and out of the area where food is being prepared should be limited.

“If you are sick, please, please understand that you need to stay home,” Ezike said during a news conference in Chicago. “Don't assume that your symptoms are not serious. Don't assume that they aren't COVID. Don't assume that you're not contagious. Take the better decision. And if you are sick, please stay home. We don't want to have our holidays marred by tragedy on the back end.”

Those who will be traveling for the holidays should limit exposure two weeks before travel, and travelers should consider options that allow for social distancing and should always wear face coverings.

Holiday shoppers should consider online shopping or ordering curbside pickup from their local stores.

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COVID-19 UPDATE:All of the state’s 11 COVID-19 mitigation regions are seeing increases in their positivity rates from a week ago, Gov. JB Pritzker said at the news conference Wednesday, Oct. 14, in Chicago.

The statewide 7-day rolling positivity rate increased for the 10th straight day to 4.6 percent, and hospitalizations for the virus increased to 1,974, their highest number since June 12. IDPH reported another 2,862 confirmed cases of the virus among 52,669 tests results reported over the previous 24 hours. The state reported 390 intensive care beds and 153 ventilators in use by COVID-19 patients at the end of Tuesday as well.

The state also reported another 49 virus-related deaths over the previous 24 hours, driving the total casualty count since the pandemic began to 9,074 among 327,605 confirmed cases and more than 6.4 million test results reported.

Region 1 of the state’s reopening plan, which has been under increased mitigations including the closure of bars and restaurants to indoor service since Oct. 3, saw its positivity rate increase to 10.1 percent. That region includes the northwest part of the state.

Region 5, which includes southern Illinois and surpassed the 8 percent threshold for mitigations one day ago, saw its rate decrease to 7.7 percent. Three straight days above 8 percent would put the region into increased mitigation territory.

Ezike also announced that Region 6, which includes Champaign County in east-central Illinois, would once again have Champaign County tests counted in its positivity rate calculations, but any tests conducted at the University of Illinois would be excluded. Those tests are done on a surveillance basis on the UI campus and generally produce positivity rates below 1 percent.

Excluding the UI test, the region had a 6.6 percent positivity rate. Other regions ranged from 4.9 to 6.8 percent positivity rates.

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CENSUS COUNT, SPENDING: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Trump administration could shorten the U.S. Census count on Tuesday, just hours after the Illinois government committed an additional $1 million to outreach.

The Trump administration originally tried to shorten the end date of the census to Sept. 30, but federal courts mandated the administration keep the count going until Oct. 31, the extended deadline originally set by the federal government in response to the coronavirus pandemic. However, following the 7-1 SCOTUS ruling, the U.S. Census Bureau announced it was ending the count at 5 a.m. Friday in Illinois.

The Census Bureau will continue to accept self-responses from Illinoisans online at through that 5 a.m. deadline and will accept phone responses and paper forms postmarked by Oct. 15.

Gov. JB Pritzker tweeted about the ruling shortly after its announcement, calling the decision “wrong” and saying it could lead to “an undercount in communities that can least afford it, perpetuating generations of disinvestment that make our nation weaker.”

Illinois’ self-response rate sits at 71.2 percent as of Tuesday, the 7th highest in the nation, and the state is the most populous in the top 10 for self-response. In 2010, the state’s self-response rate was 70.5 percent.

In a release distributed Tuesday before the SCOTUS ruling, the Pritzker administration announced it had spent an additional $1 million through the Illinois Department of Human Services for “census-related media outreach in communities of color across the state” to encourage more households to fill out self-response forms for the census.

According to that release, “many underserved and marginalized neighborhoods and cities are hovering between a 40-50 percent participation rate,” which puts hundreds of millions of federal dollars at stake over the next 10 years. Funds that could go toward programs to assist those traditionally underserved and marginalized communities in Illinois that aren’t getting counted.

While the $1 million expenditure was meant to propel outreach for the last two weeks, IDHS officials said operations to conduct outreach over the next two days are underway and that all money has already been spent.

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EARLY VOTING: With just three weeks remaining before the Nov. 3 general election, more than 660,000 voters in Illinois have already cast ballots either through mail-in or early in-person voting, shattering previous records for advance voting, according to state election officials.

The Illinois State Board of Elections posted to its website Tuesday, Oct. 13, that 660,500 advance ballots had already been received by various local voting jurisdictions.

That included 482,848 mail ballots that had either been delivered to election authorities or deposited in a drop box. That’s 22.4 percent of the more than 2.15 million mail ballots that have been requested so far.

In addition, 175,965 registered voters had cast ballots at in-person voting locations – roughly double the number of early in-person votes cast at the same point in the 2016 election cycle – and another 1,687 “grace period” voters had registered to vote and voted in-person simultaneously.

“Grace period” voting in Illinois begins 27 days before an election, which started on Oct. 7 this year. During that period, voters may no longer register to vote by mail but they may register in person and vote at an early voting location. Online voter registration is available through Oct. 18.

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There were still another 1.67 million mail ballots as of Tuesday that had been sent out to voters but not yet returned, ISBE said.

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PRISON REFORM: The state Senate Criminal law Committee and Special Committee on Public Safety held a joint hearing Tuesday, Oct. 13, calling on experts to provide evidence-based recommendations for enhancing public safety and making prisons more equitable and humane.

“Over 4 million Illinoisans have criminal records that prevent them from accessing jobs, housing, public benefits and other economic opportunities,” Victor Dickson, president of the Safer Foundation, said in virtual testimony. “The most severe discrimination experienced by Black and brown people in our state with lifelong negative consequences comes from involvement in our criminal justice system.”

The Safer Foundation provides prerelease and post-release services for individuals in the prison system to successfully reenter society.

Dickson said Black Illinoisans and other minority groups are more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts, and individuals who have been incarcerated are more likely to experience negative socioeconomic effects.

Those individuals are more likely to be homeless both before and after incarceration, have substance abuse disorders and higher chances of overdose, have mental health issues stemming from trauma and suffer from chronic health diseases. They are also more likely to suffer poverty, unemployment, crime and violence.

“So as you consider social justice reforms and social equity, please keep in mind that the inequities that exist in our state are harshest for people with records,” he said.

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DURKIN DEMANDS MADIGAN PUSHBACK: The top Republican in the Illinois House on Thursday, Oct. 8, called for Democrats, including Gov. JB Pritzker, to either demand that Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan answer questions before a Special Investigating Committee or resign immediately.

During a virtual news conference, Minority Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, openly accused the investigating committee’s chairman, Hillside Democrat Emanuel “Chris” Welch, of deliberately stalling the investigation until after the Nov. 3 election, a move that Republicans warn could thwart the entire investigation.

He called on Pritzker to “immediately demand those answers he has been requesting from Speaker Madigan or demand that he resign immediately.”

Durkin is one of three House Republicans who filed a petition calling for the investigation after Madigan was implicated in a bribery scheme involving utility giant Commonwealth Edison. In a deferred prosecution agreement filed in federal court in July, ComEd officials admitted that, over a nine-year period, they awarded no-work jobs and lobbying contracts to Madigan’s close associates in order to curry his favor for legislation that benefitted the company.

Republicans argue that Welch, by postponing any further hearings until after the election, has put the investigating committee under a severe time constraint. That’s because under House rules, all committees are automatically dissolved when the General Assembly adjourns its biennial session, which is currently scheduled to happen on Thursday, Dec. 3, the last scheduled day of the fall veto session.

That means Republicans would have to petition again for a new committee after lawmakers convene in January for the start of the 102nd General Assembly if they want the investigation to continue.

Welch has said he postponed further hearings because he did not want the investigation to be used as “political theater” leading up to the election.

But Durkin responded Thursday by insisting the investigation is not political.

Madigan himself has not been charged in the bribery scheme and he has denied any wrongdoing.

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MITIGATIONS LIFTED: State officials announced Friday, Oct. 9, that they are lifting the enhanced restrictions that have been in place for more than a month in the Metro East region after the area’s COVID-19 test positivity rate fell below 6 percent.

The region returned to Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan effective 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9, the same day statewide hospitalizations for COVID-19 rose above 1,800 for the first time since June 18.

The seven-county area, known as Region 4 in the state’s reopening plan, includes the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis. It had been under enhanced mitigation measures Aug. 18 after the area’s seven-day rolling average test positivity rate rose above 8 percent for three consecutive days – a benchmark public health officials say is an indicator of a widening spread of the disease. Added mitigations, including a ban on indoor dining and drinking at bars and restaurants, took effect Sept. 1.

Under the state’s public health guidelines, those restrictions are lifted only after the region’s average positivity rate falls below 6.5 percent for three consecutive days. Region 4’s positivity rate peaked at 10.5 percent on Aug. 27 but has been steadily declining since then and fell to 5.8 percent on Friday, triggering the lifting of those restrictions.

Gov. JB Pritzker credited the state’s aggressive testing program for helping public officials monitor the spread of the disease.

The lifting of restrictions in Region 4 leaves Region 1, in northwest Illinois, as the only region currently under enhanced mitigation efforts. That region stretches from DeKalb and Rockford to the Mississippi River.

As of Oct. 5, the most recent data available, the rolling average test positivity rate in Region 1 stood at 8.8 percent and was on an upward trend. In addition to a ban on indoor dining and drinking service, other mitigation efforts there include indoor gathering limits and limited hours for casinos and video gambling venues.

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UNEMPLOYMENT UPDATE: According to data released Thursday, Oct. 8, new unemployment claims jumped by 23 percent in the state for the week ending Oct. 3, with 36,267 filing initial claims, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. That’s an increase of 6,887 from a week ago.

The number of continued claims decreased by 3 percent, however, with 507,748 drawing unemployment benefits the week ending Oct. 3. That’s down by more than 17,000 from the previous week.

Nationally, there were 840,000 claims for the week ending Oct. 3, which was a decrease of 9,000 from the week prior, according to advanced estimates by the U.S. Department of Labor.


Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.