Readers on other platforms will know that I have been sewing facemasks. My current count is 120 given away; I have a further 20 that are waiting for homes, plus, of course, the ones for our family. I’d been saying, “it makes me feel useful,” especially knowing that my writing at Forbes on retirement isn’t catching many eyes when it’s a stretch to tie things to the pandemic. But I realize that I had been treating it as something of a magical act: if I sew face masks, then things will work out OK.
In the meantime, the CDC’s initial insistence that face masks had no use, and failure to explain themselves sufficiently since then, has now resulted in far too many people rejecting face masks (“the CDC said there’s no point, so clearly the requirement now is just government overreach”). And at the same time, when I go to the store, I see lots of people with manufactured disposable face masks of the sort that we’re told are “reserved for healthcare workers.” The city is sponsoring giveaways — again of disposable masks; another group has sourced fabric masks out of Vietnam. It all leads me to question the utility of the masks I’ve been sewing.
Separately, the other day, in response to a lawsuit, Pritzker added “gathering for religious observance in groups of less than 10” to the list of permitted activities in the state of Illinois. And the neighboring diocese, in fact, permits coming to church for silent prayer; in the Archdiocese of Chicago, everything is shut down tightly, with no indicator that this will change, only a vaguely-worded statement that the archdiocese is “engaged in planning” on the matter.
And now Pritzker has released his “Restore Illinois” plan. I’m not happy. More specifically, it’s so discouraging I feel as if I’ve wasted my time battling the broken threads and birds’ nests of my 60s-era sewing machine, that only a move out-of-state would actually solve anything.
On the one hand, the plan is to be based on regional benchmarks. That’s a plus, I suppose, but my suburban town is lumped in with the city, so it doesn’t help me.
Here are the phases:
Right now, we are in “Phase 2” — a retroactive description of the governor’s changes to his stay-at-home order, with small loosenings of restrictions (curbside pickup rather than complete closure for non-essential stores).
Phase 3 would permit the reopening of “non-essential” businesses and manufacturing; retailers may open with capacity limits; barbershops/salons may open with restrictions; health and fitness clubs can provide outdoor classes. Healthcare providers may also re-open. Heavy, heavy restrictions remain including no gatherings of more than 10, no schools. “Limited child care and summer programs open with IDPH approved safety guidance” — and no further explanation about what this might mean. (Currently there are daycares open for essential workers — would these need-based restrictions remain? Or would the requirements be so stringent that it would effectively result in providers declaring they can’t meet them?) Some elements that I had hoped would be a part of a next-phase, such as outdoor dining, are not here. And a limit of 10 persons is unnecessarily restrictive in cases such as, for example, religious services in buildings large enough to accommodate more than that with wide spacing between individuals or family groups.
In order to declare Illinois (or a region thereof) in Phase 3, the state will require:
- Less than a 20% positivity rate (that is, percent of tests which are positive),
- No increases in admissions for 28 days,
- Available capacity of 14% of ICU beds, hospital beds generally, and ventilators,
- Testing widely available,
- and the implementation of contact tracing procedures (I think – that’s how I interpret “begin contact tracing and monitoring within 24 hours of diagnosis”).
The measurement starts as of May 1, so that the earliest a region can be declared in Phase 3 is May 29, even though, for all but the Northeast (Chicagoland) region, the benchmarks could well be met sooner but for that seemingly-arbitrary requirement, according to a tracking document which the state, it seems, intends to update regularly. And how long would Phase 3 last? The two additional requirements to move to Phase 4 are for testing to be available to all, regardless of risk factors or symptoms, and “begin contact tracing and monitoring within 24 hours of diagnosis for more than 90% of cases in region” — which I why I’m understanding the Phase 3 requirement to be more about contact tracing being underway.
But what would the timeline look like for contact tracing? According to The Southern, the initiative “likely won’t begin in earnest until sometime in late May.” How long would it take to reach this 90% benchmark? I’m not finding anything further on timing in the scanty reports on the initiative, not even speculation of how long it could last, but knowing bureaucracy, this seems a monumental hurdle. (Massachusett’s program is referred to as a model; their program has been running for a month and includes 17,000 people, including infected people and their contacts, relative to 70,271 positive tests so far.) Even discarding my skepticism, how long do Pritzker and his advisors actually have in mind when they set this marker for the transition to Phase 4?
Phase 4 removes many restrictions but keeps many more. Schools are open, all outdoor recreation allowed, bars and restaurants are open, etc. However, crucially, there continue to be capacity limits on theaters, restaurants, and retail, and no gatherings of over 50 people are permitted.
And Phase 5? To permit gatherings of over 50 will require that
Either a vaccine is developed to prevent additional spread of COVID-19, a treatment option is readily available that ensures health care capacity is no longer a concern, or there are no new cases over a sustained period.
Separately, the document indicates that the last condition may be met through “herd immunity or other factors” and that the treatment must be “effective and widely available” so as to suggest that the demand goes well beyond the moderate effects of the new drugs or ventilator-avoiding methods thus far.
And this is where it all seems to lose touch with reality. We may never have a vaccine, certainly not for a year or even much longer; and the threshold for an “effective” treatment is undefined but we may not have something that meets these requirements.
The clarifications at today’s press conference (via Capitol Fax) don’t help, either. Pritzker seems to suggest that “treatment” is “a very successful treatment” or, separately, a “highly effective treatment.” Asked about schools having more than 50 students, he says,
There would be strict IDPH guidelines for schools and we talked about this early on when we were trying to figure out if we needed to close schools or not, that, could you have classrooms of [garbled] kids meeting, if the restriction was 50 for example. And would that work and so the answer is IDPH is going to be working with schools on how they can best do this coming into the fall assuming that we’re in phase four.
Does Pritzker actually have a plan? Has he given serious consideration to how his phases will actually work in the real world? It certainly doesn’t appear as if he has a real answer with respect to children (neither “the data shows the risk to children is virtually nonexistent” nor “we’ll ask schools to come up with as many precautions as possible and eliminate assemblies and other gatherings”). Is he relying on the emergence of a game-changing treatment over the summer?
And nowhere in this plan is a mention of nursing homes and assisted living communities. When will their residents be able to see their families again, or even gather within the community? For those with cognitive issues, this is not merely about being patient but about their well-being.
Democrats are praising the plan, again according to Capitol Fax, with Senate President Don Harmon calling it “forward-looking” and Comptroller Susan Mendoza, “carefully-thought-out” and “science-based.” But there are so many holes — and, no, there is no reference to any sort of footnoted, detailed second document.
The bottom line is that this document is a serious disappointment. Using labels such as “recovery,” “revitalization,” and “restored” is nothing more than a cruel joke as long as the plan is so vague and unrealistic.