I’ve written previously about the differences between Chicago and downstate Illinois. Never have they been more stark than in relation to the state’s response to COVID-19. Governor J.B. Pritzker has taken an aggressive approach to combat the virus, issuing an early lockdown order and extending same indefinitely (with some partial reopening potentially to begin at the end of this month.)
In fairness, Illinois is having a tough go with the virus, sporting the third most cases in the US (behind New York and New Jersey) and the sixth most deaths. According to Worldometers, as of this morning, Illinois has 96,485 cases as of Tuesday morning. Over 79,000 of those (82%!) are from the Chicago area (Cook County and the “collar counties” of DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will).
Grafton, Illinois is a small river town (population 632) on the western edge of the state, located near the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, about 40 miles outside of St. Louis (and 300 miles from Chicago). It’s the oldest town in Jersey County (population 21,773), which has had 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases total, and one death. To say Grafton and Chicago are not similarly situated would be a bit of an understatement.
Yet Grafton remains subject to the State of Illinois’ stay-at-home order. (Pritzker has announced a five-phase reopening plan, detailed here.) The town has already paid a steep price due to recent flooding. Last week, Mayor Rick Eberlin published a letter directed to Pritzker, imploring him to recognize that Grafton is not Chicago and one size does not fit all:
The full letter is set forth above, but these paragraphs really stand out:
Our town has simply been devastated. Aesthetically, structurally, and economically devastated, more so than any other time in it’s storied history. My administration worked diligently to balance the budget only to see those efforts wiped out by the costs of fighting the flood. The majority of businesses were shut down from March until August, that coming after our tourist season was cut short by flooding in the fall of 2018. Most people were optimistic heading into this year, but the pandemic crushed those hopes. I can’t imagine any other town in Illinois that has suffered more than us.
To make matters worse in Grafton, many businesses fail to qualify for the stimulus that is being offered. The requirements are such that it makes it nearly impossible for our businesses to get the help they so desperately need. Sole proprietorships, businesses in the floodway or floodplain, seasonal business and businesses not owned for three years, or have not shown profitability for two of the last three years, businesses with more than 50 employees all find themselves ineligible. These businesses can’t afford to take on additional debt in the form of loans.
Governor Pritzker, I am begging you to step outside of Chicago and the collar counties that surround it and re-evaluate the one size fits all approach to essential and non-essential businesses. My town and our region are vastly different and deserve to re-open immediately. We can’t wait until May 29th! due to the fact of the back to back negative financial impact that the 2019 Flood and this spring’s pandemic have caused. We already have businesses that will declare bankruptcy and others that will simply not open due to the restrictions that have been imposed. They can’t be profitable under the current rules.
Mayor Eberlin joined the Annie Frey Show on 97.1 FM Talk this past Friday to discuss his town’s plight. As of this writing, Eberlin has not received a direct reply from Pritzker’s office. Meanwhile, Pritzker has issued a new edict regarding repercussions for businesses that open in defiance of the stay-at-home order.
The new penalty level has been in effect since Friday afternoon when Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration quietly filed the emergency rule. While Pritzker’s executive order requires restaurants, salons and gyms to remain closed to on-site patrons due to COVID-19, the rule change codifies it under Illinois Department of Public Health regulations – violators of which can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor.
A Class A misdemeanor in Illinois is punishable by a fine between $75 and $2,500.
Good to see he’s got his priorities in order!