CAPITOL RECAP: State enters ‘Recovery’ phase of reopening, then grapples with statewide protests

Nykeyla Henderson, center, an organizer of the Black Lives Matter protest at the Illinois Statehouse, speaks to a crowd of several hundred demonstrators on Monday, June 1, speaking out against the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and many other African Americans who have died at the hands of law enforcement. With her are Allaijah Davis, left, and Ariona Fairlee. (Credit: Peter Hancock of Capitol News Illinois)

Nykeyla Henderson, center, an organizer of the Black Lives Matter protest at the Illinois Statehouse, speaks to a crowd of several hundred demonstrators on Monday, June 1, speaking out against the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and many other African Americans who have died at the hands of law enforcement. With her are Allaijah Davis, left, and Ariona Fairlee. (Credit: Peter Hancock of Capitol News Illinois)

By Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD  – Illinois advanced to the “Recovery” phase of Gov. JB Pritzker’s plan to incrementally reopen the state’s economy on Friday, May 29, after almost 70 days of residents living under a stay-at-home restriction.

People are still expected to wear facial coverings and practice social distancing when in public places.

“Non-essential” businesses and stores, closed for more than two months to in-person customers and workers, can now be open with capacity limitations, social distancing observations and other safety guidance measures from IDPH.

That same guidance is implemented for barbershops and salons. And for those workplaces that can enable remote activities, it is encouraged they do so.

Restaurants remain closed to indoor dining, but Pritzker amended the Phase 3 plan to allow outdoor, socially distanced dining. Delivery, pickup and drive-thru are still options.

All of the state’s 5,000-plus child care providers were allowed to reopen. Pritzker said for the first four weeks that they are open, providers will be able to serve up to 10 children per classroom.

All state parks, wildlife areas and historic sites are open to visit as well, and social gatherings of no more than 10 people are allowed.

Fitness clubs can also hold outdoor activities, as well as one-on-one training with an instructor so long as public health department guidance is observed.

The changes are permitted because all four Illinois regions — groupings of counties based on IDPH’s emergency medical service districts — achieved specified benchmarks. Those include a COVID-19 positivity rate below 20 percent for 14 consecutive days and a stable or declining hospitalization rate.

The next step after the “recovery” phase is “revitalization.” Schools and other child care programs can reopen so long as social distancing is observed, restaurants can serve in-house diners and social gatherings will be limited to 50 people or fewer.

Framers of the plan anticipate at least a 28-day period before the state can progress into that phase, meaning no sooner than Friday, June 26.

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COVID-19 HEALTH STATISTICS: The state on Thursday, June 4, reported another 929 cases of the virus and 116 deaths, pushing the number of confirmed cases in Illinois to 124,759 cases, including 5,736 deaths. The recovery rate for those 42 days removed from a positive test is 92 percent, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

There have been 982,016 tests performed in the state, including 22,841 results reported in the previous 24 hours, meaning the number of tests coming back positive was just more than 4 percent over that span. The preliminary seven-day statewide positivity rate from May 28 to June 3 is 6 percent. Those numbers must remain below 20 percent for the state to move forward with its reopening plan.

The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital beds decreased to 3,044 as of midnight Thursday, while the number in intensive care unit beds grew by nine to 853 and ventilator use grew by eight to 516. All remain in a downward trend.

The IDPH has warned, however, that recent protests could lead to an uptick in virus numbers.

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NATIONAL GUARD DEPLOYED IN CHICAGO: In the wake of violence, looting and arson that gripped the city of Chicago over the weekend, Gov. JB Pritzker said Sunday, May 31, he has deployed 375 Illinois National Guard soldiers to aid the city’s police department and other first responders in maintaining law and order.

The violence broke out Saturday night in Chicago and many other cities across the United States in response to the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died Monday, May 25, after being pinned to the ground for nearly nine minutes with a white police officer’s knee on his neck.

During a news conference Sunday in Chicago, Pritzker stood with three of the state’s most high-profile African-American leaders – Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton and Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx – to defend the rights of peaceful protesters while blaming the violence on organized outsiders.

“I also think it’s important to recognize that for much of the day (Saturday), the protests here in Chicago were beautiful, massive and peaceful,” Pritzker said. “That is as much a part of the story of what’s happening in this city, in this country, as anything else. But late in the evening yesterday, the protests became about violence and damage, and that changes the conversation away from the terrible acts that took George Floyd’s life, away from the insidious racism that we all have a role in addressing.”

Lightfoot said she respects the people expressing their First Amendment right to free speech and that she has taken part in a number of protests herself over the years.

“But we also have an obligation to make sure that when there are elements amongst the protesters or others who join the fray that don’t have respect for peaceful, nonviolent protests, but do have as their design the decision to bring hammers, shovels, bottles of urine, excrement, accelerants as we saw throughout yesterday and into the evening, we have an obligation also to protect life and liberty and property.”

On Monday, June 1,Pritzker announced another 250 guardsmen will be activated as he issued disaster proclamations for nine counties amid ongoing protests and riots across the state.

“Since that deployment, we have received additional reports of escalating situations and requests for assistance from communities around the state,” Pritzker said at a news conference in Chicago. “We have now called up an additional 250 members of the Illinois National Guard, to be ready to assist other cities across the state that have faced a surge of destructive action, notably looting, over the last 24 hours.”

The counties receiving disaster proclamations are Champaign, Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Macon, Madison, Sangamon and Will. The governor also ordered Illinois State Police to provide an additional 300 state troopers to support local municipalities Monday night into Tuesday.

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SPRINGFIELD PROTEST: A peaceful protest organized largely by teenagers drew several hundred people to the Illinois Statehouse on Monday, June 1, to demonstrate against the recent death of George Floyd in Minnesota and countless other African Americans who have died at the hands of law enforcement throughout the U.S. in recent years.

Monday’s protest came the day after an estimated 3,000 vehicles took part in a parade through the state capital’s downtown area while more violent protests gripped Chicago and other major cities throughout the U.S.

Protests were also reported in Champaign, Aurora and Rockford, according to the Illinois State Police.

Floyd died Monday, May 25, after a white Minneapolis Police officer pinned him to the ground and held his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes while three other officers took no action to stop it. All four of the officers have since been fired and the officer who knelt on his neck was charged with third-degree murder.

Floyd reportedly was suspected of trying to spend a fake $20 bill.

“They just take it like another black man killed by the police. We don’t take it like that,” Nykeyla Henderson, 17, one of the organizers of the protest, said during an interview.

With chants of “black lives matter,” “I can’t breathe,” and “hands up, don’t shoot,” the throng marched from the Statehouse toward the city’s downtown area until they were blocked by barricades to prevent them from getting near the city’s municipal building. From there, they turned south, marching just past the Abraham Lincoln home and then back to the Capitol.

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GOVERNOR URGES CHANGES THROUGH PEACEFUL PROTESTS: The “structural change” demanded by protestors around Illinois will come from nonviolent demonstrations coupled with policy reforms, Gov. JB Pritzker said Tuesday, June 2.

Speaking at a blended-income housing development in Chicago called KLEO Art Residences, the governor said “community activism and peaceful organizing and faith” are the keys to “real” transformations demanded after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died May 25 in Minneapolis after being pinned to the ground for nearly nine minutes with a white police officer’s knee on his neck.

“I do not pretend to know the pain that’s experienced by black America, the pain of knowing that what happened to George Floyd could happen to you or to your child,” Pritzker said. “But I do know that at this moment, so many people are overwhelmed here in the state of Illinois with rage and with passion and with sorrow.”

The governor’s recommendations for necessary changes include law enforcement reforms with “genuine investigations, transparency and accountability;” ensuring the “justice” in criminal justice “means something;” and making “sustained economic investment” in all black and brown Illinois communities.

He denounced the violence, looting and crime occurring in cities and towns across the state, calling attacks on small businesses already experiencing economic hardships from months of closure due to the novel coronavirus “heartbreaking.”

“I mean, just at the moment where they’re reopening — many of them spent money to get ready to reopen — now their windows are broken, their inventories are gone and in some cases, small businesses may not come back,” Pritzker said. “…We needed to rebuild before this took place. Now, we have to make double the effort.”

More than $50 million in aid funding exists for local organizations and small businesses through the Chicago and Illinois COVID Relief Funds, the governor estimated. He is also courting private donations.

And the General Assembly approved on May 23 additional financial assistance for small businesses — “hundreds of millions of dollars,” Pritzker said — in the state budget. It is awaiting the governor’s signature.

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BLACK CAUCUS: Members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus detailed their ongoing fight for racial equality and made calls for the end of looting at a news conference held at a recently-looted strip mall Tuesday, June 2, on the south side of Chicago.

“What we are seeing is pent up anger and frustration and neglect manifest itself in a very ugly way, but pain is ugly, and when people have had enough, it comes out in all forms,” state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, said at the event. “But don’t get me wrong, I do not condone destruction of property, especially in our own communities, where you lay your own head.

“But I understand the sense of hopelessness that people are feeling. And I’m tired of people telling me, and us in the Black Caucus, what to do instead of simply providing opportunities for us and our people.”

The lawmakers made their call amid ongoing protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died May 25 in Minneapolis after being pinned to the ground for nearly nine minutes with a white police officer’s knee on his neck.

Rep. Kambium Buckner, D-Chicago, said people are rightfully angry, but cautioned this could not be “just like every other time” a black person is unjustly killed.

“We need to channel our energies in the right direction and stand with our youth in order to lead the charge to make that happen,” he said. “But I also can’t rightfully sit here and talk about three days of looting in our community — which is wrong — unless I scream about decades of looting of our community, our schools, or hospitals, our hopes, our dreams, our dignity. This time has to be different.”

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SUMMER SCHOOL: Part of the state’s reopening will include summer school for Pre-K to 12th grade students at public and non-public schools. The governor authorized reopening, effective Thursday, June 4, in an executive order, his 38th since the start of the pandemic.

Specific guidelines for reopening schools include limiting the number of people in one place to 10 or fewer, ensuring compliance with social distancing requirements and discouraging physical contact, ensuring appropriate hygiene practices such as washing hands and covering coughs and sneezes, and requiring the use of face coverings.

Students, staff and visitors must wear face coverings, and schools must make disposable face coverings available to students who are over the age of two and medically able to wear such a covering.

The Illinois State Board of Education said in a guidance document it “would like to make clear that while Phase 3 allows for the resumption of face-to-face instruction, this is not the same as a return to pre-pandemic operations.”

“Extensive social distancing measures, enhanced sanitation measures, and other accommodations will be necessary to ensure the safety of students, staff, and their families,” according to the 29-page guidance document.

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STATE-RUN TESTING: State-run COVID-19 testing sites are now open to everyone.

“As we move forward, COVID-19 testing must be widely available and this is a step in that direction,” Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau said in a news release Thursday, June 4. “The state-operated community-based testing sites currently have the capacity to test more than 6,000 people per day, and now there will be no restrictions to who can be tested for this potentially deadly virus.”

Testing will be crucial as the state moves toward full reopening, the agency said in a news release.

No appointment, doctor referral, or insurance is needed at state operated drive-thru sites and testing is available at no cost to the individual. A list of public and private testing sites can be found on the Illinois Department of Public Health website at

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INVESTIGATING POLICE MISCONDUCT: Illinois’ attorney general asked Congress in a letter Thursday, June 4, to grant his office the power to investigate “practices of unconstitutional policing.”

After Rodney King was beaten by Los Angeles police officers in 1991, federal lawmakers established the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. It allowed the Department of Justice to investigate alleged police wrongdoings.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and 17 other attorneys general who signed on to the letter requested that authority as well due to the federal government’s “refusal to confront the problem of police misconduct.”

“The violent death of George Floyd at the hands of police has rightfully shocked and outraged a nation,” Raoul said in a statement. “But the truth is that George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are two of the latest in a long line of African Americans who have lost their lives at the hands of police using excessive force.”

Floyd, an unarmed black man, died May 25 in Minneapolis after being pinned to the ground for nearly nine minutes with a white police officer’s knee on his neck.

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JOBLESS CLAIMS: While new unemployment claims remained historically high in the final week of May, the surge of new claims since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be starting to slow as a number of businesses begin to reopen after two months of forced closure.  

The U.S. Department of Labor reported that 46,522 workers in Illinois filed first-time claims during the week that ended Saturday, May 30.  While that number would be considered shockingly high in normal times, it was actually 20 percent lower than the week before when 58,263 new claims were filed.

The number of workers receiving continuing unemployment benefits was also down about 5.5 percent from the previous week, to 720,580.

From March 1 through May 30, the Illinois Department of Employment security has processed more than 1.36 million unemployment claims, nearly 11.5 times the number of claims processed over the same period last year.

The agency also processed 98,757 applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, a federally-funded program for workers who lost their jobs for specific COVID-19-related reasons and do not qualify for regular unemployment. IDES also processed 42,119 applications for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, another federally-funded program that extends benefits to people who have already exhausted their regular state unemployment benefits.

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REVENUE DROPS: While the stay-at-home order was in place, however, the state of Illinois suffered a historic drop in revenue, according to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, or CoGFA.

The biggest hit came in the form of retail sales taxes, which were down $182 million, or 23.1 percent.

CoGFA’s latest monthly report also detailed the extent of the economic slowdown. Based on the number of routing requests made to Apple Maps, driving was down more than 60 percent in the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago during the third week of March compared to mid-January. It remained down about 40-50 percent in April for both Illinois and the nation.

Those numbers steadily improved throughout May and are now back to about the same levels as before the pandemic, CoGFA said.

Also, restaurant reservations on the website were down 100 percent in Illinois during April and May. And even in states that reopened sooner than Illinois, reservations were still down 60-70 percent.

CoGFA additionally cited data showing a large drop in hotel occupancy as well as new housing starts.

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PRITZKER VS. TRUMP:  A conference call between U.S. governors and Republican President Donald Trump led to the latest in a series of spats between Illinois’ governor and the president Monday, June 1.

“You have to dominate, if you don’t dominate you’re wasting your time. They’re going to run over you. You’re going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate,” Trump told the governors, according to CBS news, which obtained audio recordings of the call.

Trump reportedly admonished the governors for what he deemed a weak response to protests, which were sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Minneapolis man who died Monday, May 25, after being pinned to the ground for nearly nine minutes with a white police officer’s knee on his neck.

Democratic Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker told the president he took issue with his tone and lack of unifying response.

“I wanted to take this moment — and I can’t let it pass — to speak up and say that I’ve been extraordinarily concerned about the rhetoric that’s been used by you,” Pritzker said, according to a transcript. “It’s been inflammatory, and it’s not okay for that officer to choke George Floyd to death. But we have to call for calm. We have to have police reform called for. We’ve called out our national guard and our state police, but the rhetoric that’s coming out of the White House is making it worse. And I need to say that people are feeling real pain out there and we’ve got to have national leadership in calling for calm and making sure that we’re addressing the concerns of the legitimate peaceful protestors. That will help us to bring order.”

“OK, well thank you very much JB,” Trump said in response to the governor. “I don’t like your rhetoric much either because I watched it with respect to the coronavirus, and I don’t like your rhetoric much either. I think you could’ve done a much better job, frankly. But that’s OK. And you know, we don’t agree with each other.”

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COCKTAILS TO GO: Illinois restaurants and bars can serve cocktails to go after Gov. JB Pritzker on Tuesday, June 2, signed an initiative designed by lawmakers to provide establishments with financial relief in the wake of COVID-19 challenges.

Those businesses are “some of the hardest hit” by the public health emergency, the governor said in a press release after signing the bill into law.

“This legislation will provide these businesses with a critical tool to bring in additional income until they can safely and fully reopen their doors once more,” he added.

Alcoholic beverages are available for customers only in pick-up and delivery orders, and must be served in a sealed container with a tamper-proof lid, according to the law. Drivers delivering mixed drinks must store them in a trunk or other compartment inaccessible to them while operating the motor vehicle.

Those working for third-party delivery services, including DoorDash and GrubHub, cannot bring residents the cocktails to go.

The law, set to expire one year from Tuesday, additionally postpones late fees and liquor license fees for restaurants and bars. It also authorizes a license extension for any establishment that suffered business interruptions due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois. The mission of Capitol News Illinois is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government to the more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers that are members of the Illinois Press Association.