SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday that his administration is collecting and will make public the data to justify his COVID-19 restrictions on indoor dining after Senate Republicans urged him to release the numbers.
Illinois reported 6,110 new coronavirus infections, the second-highest single-day total, and Pritzker imposed social restrictions on a fourth region this week — counties in Chicago’s northwest suburbs.
Eight of 11 COVID-19 monitoring regions are now under “resurgence mitigations” because of rising numbers. The region that includes Chicago was added Tuesday.
With the Democratic governor’s decision to ban indoor dining and drinking and limit the size of gatherings in the nation’s third-largest city, restaurateurs and bar owners made a more strident demand that Pritzker, in the words of Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady, “show us the data.” Brady wants the Senate to convene a public hearing where Pritzker can lay out his case.
“There’s not enough data out there that shows that restaurants and bars are the main culprits here,” K.C. Gulbro, owner and chef of FoxFire Restaurant in Geneva, said during Brady’s video conference with reporters. “With not being able to get the concrete data from the governor, we feel like we’re safe enough to be open. We take all the precautions, we follow the CDC (federal health) guidelines.”
Gulbro, who won a temporary restraining order this week against the indoor-dining ban in Kane County court, said he would lose 80% of his business if forced to comply.
Pritzker has repeatedly noted the hardship. On Wednesday, he attempted to shift some of the blame to the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate for failing to provide a second COVID-19 relief package.
But he said his actions are based on information from contact tracers reaching out to people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to record where they’ve been and with whom during the previous two weeks.
“Many of the listed places in which people come in contact with one another are either private homes, private gatherings, or in bars and restaurants,” Pritzker said.
There were 51 additional COVID-19-related deaths Wednesday. There has been a total of 9,619 fatalities among 389,095 confirmed cases.
Business owners have complained they’re being unfairly singled out. Grant DePorter, CEO of Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group in Chicago, which has seven restaurants, said the governor’s decision was a devastating blow to restaurants and their employees.
Most restaurants lack space to erect tents for outdoor dining, DePorter said. And employees no longer have the $600 federal unemployment benefit they received to help weather a similar shutdown last spring.
Democratic Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot also objected initially, arguing that the ban would turn restaurant patrons into hosts of private parties where the spread is just as likely.
But Lightfoot backtracked on Wednesday after an hourlong conversation with Pritzker. She said she would not challenge the governor but repeated a warning about private gatherings.
“You are not safe in your home, you cannot let down your guard,” Lightfoot said. “If they’re not a family member, an immediate family member in your household, you should not be having dinner parties or weekend parties, card games, all the things that we know that people love and enjoy.”
Pritzker said the Illinois Department of Public Health’s onerous task of compiling records from 97 local health departments could culminate with information posted online as early as next week.
With his demand for the data, Brady, a Bloomington Republican, was continuing a pandemic-long GOP complaint that Pritzker is big-footing the General Assembly.
“People have a right to know, the Legislature needs to get involved in this,” Brady said during the video conference. “It’s time to stop just unilateral actions on the part of the governor.”
Senate President Don Harmon did not commit to a hearing, but spokesman John Patterson said the Oak Park Democrat promised to continue working with Brady “toward the shared goal of protecting the health and safety of the people of Illinois.”