Pritzker says widespread availability of vaccine needed before state can lift restrictions


Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan to reopen Illinois with no restrictions, or Phase 5, is having a vaccine or therapeutic for COVID-19 “widely available.” The governor still can’t say exactly when that’ll be.

A 12-member state legislative panel Tuesday could take up a new emergency rule in place until June requiring masks and social distancing, but some want the entire 176-member state legislature to be more involved in managing the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the economy.

Outside of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules process with only a fraction of state lawmakers involved, Pritzker’s administration has largely managed the pandemic by itself.

After more than two months of stay-home orders last Spring, Pritzker revealed his five-phased plan to reopen the state.

Phase 5 he said would come about with vaccines or therapeutics. Illinois is currently in Phase 3, Tier 3 restrictions with no indoor service for bars and restaurants allowed, but even in the capital city, officials are allowing for 25 percent capacity.

Starting Jan. 15, regions of the state the governor unilaterally drew can begin phasing to fewer restrictions if the regions meet certain metrics.

As for therapeutics for COVID-19, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said things like Remdesivir or monoclonal antibodies are available.

“In some cases, they may be helpful, in some cases they may be not,” Ezike said Monday. “I think if you look at the World Health Organization, they’re not giving it a veritable thumbs up.”

Ezike will get the vaccine Tuesday during a press conference in Riverside.

Even with the vaccine going out, Pritzker still couldn't say exactly when to consider it “widely available” as the state works through phases of distribution for certain populations over others.

“You can do your own math to determine when we’ll get to a number that people can really be safe,” Pritzker said.

The governor didn’t say what that number would be to enter Phase 5.

State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, said with since the goalposts moved, and no clear indication of if things will change, it’s beyond time for lawmakers to get involved.

“You can kind of expect to see that the governor might change his opinion,” Bourne said. “So that’s why it should be a legislative action as we’ve discussed so we know exactly what these parameters are and we can count on them being followed.”

It’s not just downstate that’s frustrated, state Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, said it’s beyond time for the legislature to get involved. He faults legislative leaders for being hands-off.

“I don’t like it,” Ford said of the governor’s unilateral actions. “I’ve always been ready to come back and deal with the pandemic, and the impact that the pandemic is having on poor impoverished communities and businesses.”

It’s been nearly a year since the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in Illinois.

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