Illinois joins six states in regional pact to coordinate re-opening economy

Illinois Capitol News

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker responds to a question after announcing that three more people have died in the state from from Covid-19 virus, two Illinois residents and one woman visiting from Florida, during a news conference Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

ILLINOIS (NEXSTAR) — Illinois will join six other Midwestern states in a regional pact to coordinate information in an effort to decide collectively when to re-open specific sectors of the economy that were closed down in an attempt to slow the spread of the Coronavirus.

Governors Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Tony Evers (D-WI), Tim Walz (D-MN), Eric Holcomb (R-IN) and Andy Beshear (D-KY) signed on to the agreement.

The partnership demonstrates an elevated level of coordination between state executives at a time when the federal government has signaled it will pressure or “authorize” states to re-open. The cooperation could also signal a reset in the market where states have become competitors in the race to purchase medical supplies.

According to multiple sources familiar with the discussions, Republican Governors Kim Reynolds (IA), Mike Parson (MO), Kristi Noem (SD), and Doug Burgum (ND) were all invited to join the partnership but declined.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-Illinois) announced the regional partnership in a press release that included a joint statement with the other governors on Thursday afternoon.

“Phasing in sectors of our economy will be most effective when we work together as a region,” the joint statement said. “This doesn’t mean our economy will reopen all at once, or that every state will take the same steps at the same time. But close coordination will ensure we get this right.

In a press event on Monday, Pritzker acknowledged the hurdles in finding common ground across party lines, saying, “there’s not exactly a perfect consensus” on when to re-open parts of the economy.

“How does that work?” he asked. “What rules you have to put in place? Does everybody wear a mask. Do you require that?”

“What are all the rules for each industry?” Pritzker wondered. “A manufacturer is very different than a clothing store. What are the rules? Do we have to start thinking in the way that a fire marshal determines how many people can be in your store, in your grocery store, based on the number of square feet so that if there’s a fire, everybody can get out? Do we now need to have a public health administrator determining how many people at any given time can be in a certain store for us to reopen those stores?”

The Thursday statement said the governors will prioritize health and safety of the workforce, and they will look to the rates of infection and hospitalization as determining factors. They also said enhanced testing and contact tracing are keys to re-opening safely, in addition to protecting hospitals capacity for a surge, and preparing for proper social distancing in the workplace.

“Over time, people will go back to work, restaurants will reopen, and things will go back to normal,” the governors said. “We look forward to working together as one region to tackle this challenge together.”

Pritzker has not yet announced if he might extend his stay-at-home order beyond April 30th. His current disaster proclamation, which is limited to 30-day time limits under state law, is set to expire at the end of the month.

Other states in the regional pact have already announced plans to cancel school for the remainder of the year. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers announced a plan Thursday to extend the state’s order to stay home through May 24th.

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