Illinois governor orders police patrols amid COVID spikes

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday that Illinois State Police will start patrolling bars and restaurants in regions of the state where coronavirus numbers are surging, and establishments that disregard his new restrictions could face sanctions including the loss of their liquor or gambling licenses.

On another record-setting day for new COVID-19 infections, Pritzker announced the police patrols in four area of the state. The officers will be authorized to disperse crowds and issue citations for violators.

Pritzker previously downplayed enforcement while begging for compliance, but he said times have changed.

“It is very serious right now, folks, and if we need to close down restaurants or bars or take away their liquor licenses, take away their gaming licenses, we will do that because we are now headed into a peak that is beyond, potentially, where we were in March and April,” Pritzker said during a visit to the St. Clair County Health Department in Belleville.

Earlier, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot had a similar message. Starting Friday, she ordered nonessential businesses to close by 10 p.m. and urged residents to limit gatherings to six people because of the troublesome rise in coronavirus cases. Bars that don’t serve food also have to stop serving customers indoors, and all restaurants and bars have to stop liquor sales at 9 p.m.

“We are — no doubt whatsoever — in a second surge,” Lightfoot said. “This is what it looks like.”

The number of statewide cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, set another single-day record Thursday, with 4,942, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. There were 44 additional deaths, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 9,387 among 360,159 confirmed infections.

Chicago is averaging 645 new cases daily during the past week. Lightfoot’s action followed a warning earlier in the week that without a reversal of the trend, restrictions could follow.

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the city’s Department of Public Health, also noted the similarity between recent case-number increases and the rampant rise of late spring. The entire state was placed on a stay-at-home order for about two months beginning in mid-March.

“If we need to take further steps … even going back to shelter in place, I’m not going to hesitate to do that,” Lightfoot said. “I hope that won’t be necessary, but it’s all in your hands.”

Pritzker has been sympathetic about the bitter pill forced on bars and restaurants. However, he has been carrying with him a sheaf of paper representing a dozen studies the administration maintains show that such entertainment venues are “spreading locations,” given how close people get in such places and that alcohol use might lower inhibitions about wearing face coverings.

He also notes that such enterprises are first in line for business-interruption grants offered by the state.

Resurgence mitigations, including outdoor-only bar and restaurant service that must end at 11 p.m. and limiting gatherings to 25 or fewer people, started Thursday for Region 5, in far southern Illinois, one of 11 COVID-19 monitoring regions in the state. They start Saturday for four populous suburban Chicago counties comprising Regions 7 and 8.

Restrictions in place since Oct. 3 have not stopped COVID-19’s spread in northwestern Illinois — Region 1. The rate of positive COVID-19 tests there is now 12%, up two percentage points in the past week alone. So Region 1 must observe even tighter restrictions beginning Sunday, such as no more than 10 people gathering at once and no more than six at an outdoor restaurant table.

___ Foody reported from Chicago.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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