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Some Northwest suburbs ask to be split from Chicago in governor's Restore Illinois plan

by Eric Peterson, Daily Herald

An agency representing 42 suburbs, including Schaumburg and Arlington Heights, has asked Gov. J.B. Pritzker to put them in a different region than Chicago in his Restore Illinois plan, and to move up the phase of the recovery at which restaurants are allowed to reopen.

The Northwest Municipal Conference also discussed asking that the required number of days of a decrease in COVID-19-like hospital admissions be reduced to 14 from 28 to be able to move to the next reopening phase, though in the end it decided not to include that in its letter to Pritzker.

But some collar county health officials and some members of the conference itself are defending the details of the governor's plan.

Among the 43 members of the conference -- 42 suburbs as well as Northfield Township -- 34 participated in a meeting Wednesday at which 20 supported the conference's position, 12 were opposed and two abstained, Executive Director Mark Fowler said. A letter was sent to the governor Friday.

Schaumburg Mayor Tom Dailly said the letter closely mirrored a resolution his village was already considering.

"I think it's a reasonable ask," he said.

Palatine Village Manager Reid Ottesen said the resolution is just asking for a return to the usual 11 medical regions in the state, rather than the four recognized by the Restore Illinois plan.

Palatine will be among several member communities discussing individual resolutions based on the same language next week. Others include Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates, Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect, Buffalo Grove and Wheeling.

Dailly said Highland Park was the most vocal of the members opposed to the position. On Friday, its mayor, Nancy Rotering, sent a letter to Pritzker expressing her city's support of his Restore Illinois plan.

"The NWMC has taken a shortsighted and ill-informed approach to reopening our vital local economies," Rotering wrote. "The lack of consultation with public health officials in proposing this change ignores the seriousness of the public health crisis we are experiencing. We know that certain health care metrics must be reached before social expansion (including commerce) can be safely supported."

Dailly said he believes Rotering misunderstood the request to put the suburbs in non-Chicago regions as a questioning of Pritzker's medical criteria for reopening.

"The point is we're not attacking (Pritzker's) position from a medical standpoint," Dailly said. "We still have to meet his numbers. That doesn't change."

In Phase 3, masks in public places would still be required as would 6-feet social distancing. But gatherings of 10 or fewer people also will be permitted. And nonessential manufacturing can resume operations, barbershops and hairstylists can open, and retail shops can open with capacity limits.

To reach Phase 3 of the governor's reopening plan, regions must have an infection rate of 20% or lower over two weeks, hospital admissions for COVID-19 illnesses must stay level or decrease for 28 days, and at least 14% of ICU, medical and surgery beds must be available.

Schools and day cares would remain closed. Restaurants and bars would be limited to delivery, pickup and drive-through.

The Northwest Municipal Conference is asking that the full reopening of restaurants be moved out of Phase 4 -- when gatherings of up to 50 people and the full reopening of bars and schools also would be allowed, to Phase 3. Fowler said that in doing so, the conference was asking whether careful protocols might enable dining out to restart in the same way activities like golf, boating and fishing have.

But some municipal officials argued the municipal league should take a stronger position, asking for the number of days with a decrease in hospitalizations to be reduced from 28 to 14, Dailly said.

"Where did he get 28?" Dailly asked. "Fourteen makes sense. That was the position he originally took."

Ottesen agreed.

"The 28 days to 14 days is the standard that every other state is following based upon all of their medical guidance," Ottesen said. "He has been asked repeatedly at his daily briefings why 28 instead of 14, and he has yet to provide an answer."

Lake County Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister is among those joining Rotering in an unqualified endorsement of Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan.

"We empathize with our residents who are facing hardship and appreciate both the economic and public health impacts of this pandemic," Pfister said in a statement Friday. "Ultimately, the Restore Illinois plan is science-based ­-- its foundation being public health data -- and we are going to follow the science."

While DuPage County Health Department Karen Ayala also spoke in support of the approach Pritzker has taken, she suggested an openness to more than one path to restarting the economy safely.

"Whether it is done as a region, or through individual county decisions, the DuPage County Health Department understands the desire to return to normalcy and will support a plan that balances public health while addressing economic concerns and a safe reopening of businesses," Ayala said.

• Daily Herald staff writers Madhu Krishnamurthy and Bob Susnjara contributed to this report.

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