COVID-19 rates are on the rise in Illinois, and the state faces a fresh round of lockdowns under Governor J. B. Pritzker. This week, the governor has faced public opposition from Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot about closing indoor dining, and from the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), which reportedly plans to defy his guidance and proceed with its basketball season.
Let’s take the high school sports first because they are engaging in a full-blown mutiny. Illinois has been the only Midwest state without high school football this fall. People did protest but got nowhere. As detailed in the Chicago Sun-Times, Governor Pritzker re-classified basketball from medium risk to high risk, which meant it would be on hold. IHSA has since openly defied these guidelines, announcing that basketball season will start as scheduled.
Last week, the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health published a study which “suggest[s] that participation in sports is not associated with an increased risk of COVID-19 among Wisconsin high school student-athletes.” It previously found that the decrease in physical activity this past spring correlated with a major uptick in depression amongst high school athletes.
Governor Pritzker also announced this week that indoor dining would be closing again in Chicago on Friday, but he was met with public opposition to the shutdown from Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
“There’s a number of restrictions, and we’re very concerned about them. Our restaurant industry, our bars, our gyms, indoor spaces – if the governor’s order goes into effect, it’s really effectively shutting down a significant portion of our economy at a time when those same businesses are really hanging on by a thread,” Mayor Lightfoot said on PBS, as transcribed by CBS Chicago. “So we’re going to continue our engagement with the governor and his team, but it’s not looking good, and if we can’t convince them that some other metrics should apply, then the shutdown, unfortunately, is going to take effect starting on Friday by state order.”
Mayor Lightfoot argues that the data shows that private gatherings cause the virus to spread more than public settings do: “I think that we’ve got to look at what our metrics are. No question, we’re seeing an uptick in cases. We’re also seeing percent positivity go up. But hospitalizations are not at the breaking point like we feared back in the spring, and I think that’s an important metric that needs to have some really significant rank, and also, we’ve got to be very surgical in the way the we impose these new restrictions. The truth is that where the greatest challenges is in people’s homes – in social settings that are not public.”
This statement represents a stark change from earlier this year, when Governor Pritzker and Mayor Lightfoot were much more in lockstep, at least in public. Mayor Lightfoot cultivated an image of a social media meme. She looked stern and told Chicagoans to stay home. Heck, just last week she announced that all bars in the city that don’t serve food had to cease indoor service.
But she’s reaching the end of her rope. There is no federal stimulus on the horizon, the city is facing a $1.2 billion shortfall, bars and restaurants and other businesses are hanging on by their fingernails, homicides last month reached the highest rate since 1993, and we are entering the months of the year when Chicago is cold and dark in the best of times. Mayor Lightfoot is reading the room and at the very least realizing it’s more politically expedient to put blame for the economic devastation that will come from the latest lockdowns at the feet of the governor.
Governor Pritzker can’t really make an exception for Chicago because he’s enforcing lockdowns on consistent thresholds in other parts of the state. To cut Chicago some slack, he would have to reverse course on his whole philosophy of lockdowns. He’s given no indication that he’s going to do that. Therefore, the shutdowns in Chicago and the rest of the state will continue indefinitely because infection rates will not likely reach a level that Pritzker considers acceptable anytime soon.
Like the battle between Disney and California Governor Gavin Newsom, Mayor Lightfoot seems to have concluded that the governor’s lockdown policy would create more harm than good. She believes that it will have negative economic consequences on her city and that such consequences should outweigh preventing a spread of the virus.