By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner
Under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s own COVID-19 metrics, Illinois’ downstate regions should have entered Phase 4 of his reopening plan weeks ago. The data supporting that claim is overwhelming, especially when the downstate numbers are compared with those of the Chicagoland region.
Case positivity rates downstate have collapsed for nearly two straight months and never reached the highs seen in Chicagoland. Per capita hospital admissions have also been just a fraction of those in the Northeast region. And there was never the risk of running short of hospital resources downstate like there was in Chicago.
The reality is downstate Illinois never came close to reaching the crisis levels experienced in the broader Chicago region. In fact, close to half of Illinois’ counties have yet to experience their first COVID-19 death.
And wherever there has been a problem, it’s often been related to retirement home deaths and not the general public.
When Gov. Pritzker released his reopening plan on May 5, he should have taken into account the major COVID-19 data differences that already existed between the downstate and Chicago regions. Instead, the governor went with his one-size-fits-all approach that has delayed all of Illinois’ reopening for weeks.
That delay has consequences. Businesses are closing for good and individuals are losing their livelihoods. The damage being done to people’s lives, including deaths of despair, is real. If Pritzker is truly committed to science and data – and to balancing lives and livelihoods – he’ll do the right thing and let downstate open up faster.
The requirements for moving to Phase 4
Pritzker launched his five-phase reopening plan on May 5th, creating four regions based on the state’s existing emergency management service areas. Those regions are the Northeast, North-Central, Central and Southern areas of the state.
Illinois as a whole moved to Phase 3 of the plan on May 29. The requirements for moving to Phase 4 are:
- At or under a 20 percent positivity rate and increasing no more than 10 percentage points over a 14-day period, AND
- No overall increase (i.e., stability or decrease) in hospital admissions for COVID-19-like illness for 28 days, AND
- Available surge capacity of at least 14 percent of ICU beds, medical and surgical beds, and ventilators.
- Testing available in the region regardless of symptoms or risk factors.
- Begin contact tracing and monitoring within 24 hours of diagnosis for more than 90 percent of cases in the region.
Because of the rules above, the earliest Illinois can move to Phase 4 is June 26. Let’s look at each metric and see how the downstate regions measure up based on COVID-19 data from Mark Maxwell of WCIA, who FOIA’ed the IDPH for data back to March 1.
1. The three downstate regions’ case positivity rates never came close to the Northeast region’s near-30 percent peak. The Southern region peaked at 16 percent, the North-Central at 12 percent, while the Central region peaked at just 8 percent.
Even more, the downstate regions have been below 10 percent positivity since May 9 and the most recent numbers are now all below 5 percent.
Overall, the positive case rates in the downstate regions peaked nearly two months ago.
2. Hospital admissions across downstate Illinois have been far lower than in the Chicago area, both on a gross and per capita basis. Average hospital admissions in any of the three non-Chicagoland regions never exceeded more than 23 people a day. Southern Illinois’ maxed out at 17 admissions, as did Central Illinois.
Those daily hospital admission numbers pale in comparison to those of the Northeast region, which reached a high of 444 people on April 27. On a per capita basis, that’s four to five times more admissions than the downstate regions each experienced at their peak moments.
Because the admissions in the Northeast region dwarf the rest of the state, below is a look at just downstate hospital admissions. Each region had a different date for their peak admissions, but all occurred long before Illinois moved to Phase 3.
3. All three downstate regions have had sufficient surge capacity since the beginning of the crisis. A glance at the 7-day averages for hospital resource availability shows that none of the downstate regions ever came close to falling below Pritzker’s 14 percent surge requirement for moving to Phase 4.*
That’s in sharp contrast to the Northeast region, which bumped up against that limit early on in the crisis and then a second time in mid-May.
The major disparity in data between the regions shows just how unnecessarily draconian the shutdown has been for downstate. The data also shows that Pritzker’s required month-long delay before moving on to Phase 4 is entirely unjustified. By now every region of the state, including Chicago, should be accelerating their reopening.
The only thing holding them back is the governor’s plan. Unfortunately, Pritzker seems more interested in sticking to his arbitrary schedule rather than actually following the data.
*FOIA data for hospital resources covered March 1 through May 25. Additional data for ICU and Med/Surg beds through June 13 was collected from the IDPH website. The state does not publicly release ventilator data by EMS region.
Read more about COVID-19 and the impact on Illinois:
- Pritzker has no excuse to extend his shutdown of Illinois. His own data says reopen.
- New study finds ‘no evidence’ of COVID outbreak in Wisconsin after lockdown order voided; other metrics continue to improve
- COVID-19 spreads to half of all Chicagoland retirement homes. How did this happen?
- COVID-19 deaths and pre-existing conditions. What IL data says about who’s at risk
- Facing Growing Defiance, Pritzker Thumbs Nose at AG Opinion, Insults and Threatens Dissidents
- Pritzker’s overly-restrictive shutdown rules make Illinois a national outlier
- Half of Illinois’ deaths linked to retirement homes. Five key facts you should know.