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Gov. JB Pritzker on Thursday said none of the four regions of the state can move into the next phase of reopening the economy until late May — even as some areas of the state have been meeting criteria for weeks.

The reason, Pritzker said, is that the benchmarks for his plan will only rely on data starting this month and not the previous months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The first of May marked the beginning of Pritzker’s latest stay-at-home order with a few relaxed restrictions and a face-covering mandate. But it also marked the baseline from which the four regions would be measured in order to move into the next phase of reopening under Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan unveiled Tuesday.

Related: Pritzker announces benchmarked plan to restart economy

All four regions entered the second phase on May 1. But Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) data shows Northeast Illinois, which includes Cook County and the collar counties, has a more difficult path moving into the third phase than the remaining three regions of the state.

IDPH data show North Central Illinois, Central Illinois and Southern Illinois are well on their way to meeting benchmarks with positive test rates far below 20 percent.

[Hannah Meisel/The Daily Line]

[Hannah Meisel/The Daily Line]

[Hannah Meisel/The Daily Line]

Republican Rep: Pritzker benchmark “punishes” some areas

Asked Thursday whether historic data would be used to determine whether a region of the state could move forward to the third phase of economic recovery before May 29, Pritzker said no.

“Not for the purpose of the Restore Illinois plan,” Pritzker said.

State Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria) said ignoring data prior to May 1 punishes areas of the state who have already been meeting criteria for weeks.

“May 1 was not a special date for any part of the state,” Spain told The Daily Line.

Spain said Peoria-area hospitals have already been monitoring the test results from surrounding counties and doing contact tracing and capacity monitoring and have seen low positive test rates for weeks.

Spain’s claim was checked against the Peoria County Health Department’s data, where a spokeswoman told The Daily Line the department did not have comprehensive daily data available but provided “milestones.”

On April 16, for example, Peoria County’s positivity rate was 11 percent, according to PCHD spokeswoman Diana Scott. As of Thursday, the rate is 4.7 percent, she said.

Spain also said lumping large cities like Peoria, Rock Island, Rockford and Bloomington-Normal in the same region with more rural areas to make up the North Central Illinois region was inappropriate, though he said a county-by-county approach would also be wrong.

There’s no scenario where grouping Peoria, Rockford, the Quad Cities and Galena makes sense,” Spain said. “Those are not hospitalization use patterns that make sense.”

Peoria preps counter reopening plan

Peoria-area officials will be unveiling a regional plan to counter Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan, and Spain warned Pritzker would be wise to consider it or else risk defiance from constituents. Spain is advocating for plan to divide the state into smaller regions, like Michigan’s reopening plan, which splits its state into six regions. 

Pritzker defended the four-region approach.

“They’re not based upon how many Covid-positive people are in your particular village or town or city, but rather … how much health care is available if and when there’s a surge,” Pritzker said. “And let’s be clear, the virus hasn’t gone away. It is still out there.”

Northeast Illinois has the most unfavorable metrics in the state, according to IDPH data. As of Wednesday, of the 12,420 test results reported for the region, 21.93 percent of tests came back positive. Since May 1, that figure has only dipped below 20 percent twice, and just barely.

[Hannah Meisel/The Daily Line]