If we look around the country, Illinois definitely earns a passing grade in the way it’s handled the COVID-19 outbreak.

Illinois is still in the top 10 in the United States for cases and deaths. But that’s down from being in the top three or four in the country just a few weeks ago. More importantly, the “curve” whose importance we’ve been repeatedly and emphatically reminded of, is showing a downward trend in Illinois.

That’s not the case in many states around the country. With numbers and percentages trending the wrong way in southern states like Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Florida, governors are facing backlash about reopening decisions and being forced to retreat and re-impose restrictions.

That’s the worst possible place to be.

Of course, Illinois faces its own danger of that possibility as we enter into Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan. There’s the possibility that expanding our circles of contact results in an unwanted spike of positives. If we get to that point, we will need to contemplate those decisions the governors in those southern states are hating to make.

Pritzker and the citizens of Illinois have earned a victory lap. So far.

This is the point where the criticism Pritzker’s plan has engendered from the beginning is wholly fair and accurate. Phase 5, the final phase of Reopen Illinois, demands a widespread, effective treatment for coronavirus, a vaccine or no new cases of COVID-19 for a prolonged period.

Health officials have said a vaccine is still months from being approved. Pritzker said he’ll listen to scientists, and certainly medical experts will have their say as well.

That reality seems further away than Phase 4 did when Pritzker announced the reopening plan on May 5. Critics who suggested Pritzker’s plan gave him unlimited and unchecked power pointed to the at best distant possibility of reaching Phase 5.

So perhaps Pritzker needs to gather his experts in a circle and consider whether they might make room for a Phase 4.5, and what might be included in that.

Arguing the logic of the way we’ve handled the outbreak from the beginning has been easy for those who just want to disagree. Grocery stores and large stores offering a number of items were allowed to stay open, while other businesses were not. Groups were not allowed to gather, but backlash and an absence of teeth in regulations left groups that gathered untouched. Masks were politicized like nowhere else in the world. Your patriotism and your care for your fellow man were evaluated in the statement made by a person’s mask decision.

And we’re ignoring arguments of the virus being a hoax and that it’s nothing more than a bad flu, given that the death toll already exceeds annual flu death averages.

What would Phase 4.5 look like? That’s where the people affected come in. Church officials went the state of Illinois route to make their cases, and won. Whether the decision was logical or political or shades of both is immaterial.

Perhaps the best way to allow expansion of openings is for the officials of any group to go to a governmental board to make their case. However far away Phase 5 is, successful and thoughtful concessions might make the trek to total reopening seem a shade easier.

- The Southern Illinoisan, June 28, 2020

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