We agree with you that disaster response is not the place for partisan politics. At the same time, we hope you understand that as elected officials representing our constituents, we have a duty to provide input on areas where we think state government can do better. This letter is offered in that spirit.
During your daily briefings, it sounds like you are implying that a second spike in the amount of COVID-19 infections is a condition that can be avoided through a lengthy extension of Illinois’ current shut-down/stay-at-home policies. Our understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic is that this second spike cannot be avoided without widespread availability of a vaccine (and a vaccine is still months away from approval). Epidemiologists project that, regardless of social distancing practices, 80-90% of our population will eventually be exposed to COVID-19, but may not necessarily contract it.
We need to remember that the purpose of the closures and social distancing was to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. These measures were not intended to stop transmission of the virus—that is impossible. The critical metric now is—and always has been—the capacity of our hospital system to handle the influx of COVID-19 cases that we know is coming. Therefore, your daily briefings should always include an update from the Illinois Hospital Association on the availability of hospital beds, ICU beds, and ventilators, broken down by region.
Illinois should start to ease back on some of the more aggressive social distancing measures as soon as the Illinois Hospital Association projects that ICU bed capacity is sufficient to respond to the projected levels of COVID-19 admissions. We are not advocating for an immediate return to normalcy—far from it. But where non-essential businesses or facilities can practice social distancing norms, they should be allowed to operate.
You have rejected what you call a “piecemeal” approach to COVID-19 response. A piecemeal approach is not what we or other legislators are proposing. Instead, we propose a uniform policy for the State of Illinois that will empower county health officials to make decisions on closures. We are confident that our county public health directors have the ability to assess and evaluate the threat that COVID-19 poses to our local populace.
Lastly, we are already past the time when a plan for re-opening Illinois should have been unveiled. Like indefinite war, indefinite shutdown is not sustainable. Businesses in our State, large and small, need the hope associated with a projected end-date for the shut-down. Therefore, the plan should identify a phased timeline where local decision makers can expand the classes of businesses that are essential. In order to increase societal resilience and confidence in government, the plan should also include provisions for antibody testing and complete transparency on the allocation of the billions of state and federal dollars spent in response to this pandemic. We believe that the best way to develop this plan is with a working group made up of agency administrators and lawmakers.
We hope you review and contemplate this letter in the same spirit we have written it—a desire to give the people of Illinois the best possible government during this challenging time. Thank you for your attention to this letter and your service to the State of Illinois.
Sen. Paul Schimpf, 58th District of Illinois
Sen. Donald DeWitte, 33rd District of Illinois
Sen. Jim Oberweis, 25th District of Illinois
Sen. Craig Wilcox, 32nd District of Illinois
Sen. Jason Plummer, 54th District of Illinois
Sen. Chuck Weaver, 37th District of Illinois
Sen. Sue Rezin, 38th District of Illinois
Sen. Dan McConchie, 26th District of Illinois