A small group of protesters holding “Don’t tread on me” flags and chanting “Open Illinois!” demonstrated outside the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on Sunday, the latest in a series of protests across the country against stay-at-home orders designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
About 50 people gathered on the steps of the Capitol, holding signs that read “Open our state,” “Freedom is essential” and “No one is safe when rights are infringed.” Others waved “Trump 2020” and “Recall Pritzker.”
One counterprotester stood among them, wearing a face mask and holding a sign that read “These guys are idiots.”
The Springfield protest followed a wave of demonstrations against coronavirus stay-at-home orders at statehouses across the nation in recent days, including Lansing, Michigan; Madison, Wisconsin; Indianapolis; Austin, Texas; and Carson City, Nevada. Protesters are pushing for state economies to reopen, and many have flouted social distancing guidance and restrictions on gatherings aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus.
The small Sunday demonstration in Illinois came as state health officials reported 1,197 new known cases of coronavirus in Illinois and at least 31 new deaths. That brings the state’s total to 30,357 new cases and 1,290 deaths.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has been delivering his daily news conferences from the Thompson Center in Chicago, said he is weighing public safety and the economy as he considers the effects of the stay-at-home restrictions, which have shuttered many businesses and kept people at home throughout the state. But with Illinois coming off a grim week in which about a third of the total cases confirmed since the outbreak’s start were tallied between April 12 and Saturday, the governor said he needs to consider the ramifications of softening restrictions too soon.
“I think I would say to all of those folks who legitimately want to get back to work that I do too,” Pritzker said. “I want people to get back to work, I want people to go back to school. And I want us to have a great summer. And so I’m looking for all of the best ways to make that happen. But we’re in the middle of an emergency, a pandemic."
Pritzker said he is listening to the health experts and scientists as he weighs the decisions about the restrictions in Illinois. The current stay-at-home order runs through April 30. Illinois schools will be closed for the remainder of the academic year.
“The fact is, we have got to be very careful as we make decisions about change in the stay-at-home order to keep people safe,” Pritzker said. “And I’m looking at all of the ways in which we can open things up and keep people safe.”
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said the stay-at-home order has slowed the spread of the virus. During the beginning days when the coronavirus hit Illinois, she said, the basic reproductive number, or RO -- the expected number of people one person will infect -- was about 3.5. The RO is now “in the low 1s,” Ezike said.
“We’ve brought it way down,” Ezike said.
But Pritzker added that he’s looking for that number to be below 1.
Pritzker and Ezike’s daily update came a day after the state reported 125 more deaths and 1,585 new confirmed cases. The Saturday death total tied Thursday’s record for a single day. There were 9,980 new coronavirus cases between April 12 and Saturday. For the week that ended Saturday, 583 people in Illinois died from COVID-19, nearly half of the total number of dead since the state began tracking.
Among the newest apparent coronavirus victims is a student at Arlington Heights-based Township High School District 214 who died likely due to complications from COVID-19, according to an email announcement from Superintendent David Schuler.
Because of the ongoing threat of spread, Ezike urged all residents to continue their social distancing efforts.
“Let’s continue to be all-in in Illinois,” she said.