The next phase of combating the global COVID-19 pandemic is to repair the economic devastation it has wrought in its wake. It is a monumental effort that will only be successful if Legislative and Executive branches work together. The House Republicans are proposing a multifaceted plan that will safely re-open the state and put Illinois’ economy on the road to recovery.
The plan creates a COVID-19 Economic Recovery Commission and takes a regional approach to recovery.
COVID-19 Economic Recovery Commission
We propose the creation of a COVID-19 Economic Recovery Commission, to be assembled as soon as possible. The commission would be tasked with developing a comprehensive strategy for safely re-opening Illinois.
The COVID-19 Economic Recovery Commission (“Commission”) would be composed of public health experts, health care providers, business and labor leaders, economic policy experts, educators, community leaders, and state and local elected officials (including members of the Illinois General Assembly).
Appointees to the Commission should be representative of the broad geographic and economic diversity of the entire state. Appointments to the Commission should not just be made by the Governor, but also the four legislative leaders, and potentially from stakeholders such as the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.
To supplement the work of the Commission , the Illinois General Assembly should immediately create a COVID-19 Recovery Joint Committee with powers to draft and forward COVID-related recovery legislation to the two chambers. As much as possible, this joint committee should reflect the geographic balance of the state and operate in a bi-cameral, bi-partisan manner, similar to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR).
A Regional Approach to Recovery
The House Republican Caucus supports a regional approach to economic recovery. Across Illinois, private citizens, health care professionals, business leaders, and government officials are offering thoughts and input on how to address both the public health emergency and the economic crisis we are currently facing. Many have advocated for a regional approach to managing the situation.
Other states have developed recovery plans that utilize regional or county-by-county approaches, rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all plan on large and geographically diverse populations. We’ve outline two directions below:
ECONOMIC RECOVERY ZONES
We propose the creation of economic recovery zones that empowers each zone to implement a regional response to re-opening and recovery.
The State of New York is utilizing ten (10) regions for re-opening/recovery. Illinois should take a similar approach, based on a) geographic location, and b) regional association to a large or mid-sized community. Potential economic recovery zones include:
- Cook County
- Collar Counties
- Northern Illinois (north of I-88, exurbs west to Mississippi River)
- Quad Cities Region
- North Central Illinois (center of state, Peoria/Bloomington/Normal north to I-88)
- East Central Illinois (Champaign, Danville south to I-70)
- South Central Illinois (center of state, Springfield, Decatur south to I-70)
- Western Illinois (Quincy north to Galesburg)
- Southwestern Illinois (Metro East region)
- Southeastern Illinois (rest of Southern Illinois outside of the Metro East region)
Community and economic leaders in those recovery zones, in cooperation with county health departments, should drive decision making and have an official role in helping to reopen and revive their local economy. Plans should be developed and carried out by each recovery zone, with oversight/input of the State.
Testing, tracing, and reporting of COVID-19 has to be essential to making this work. Testing capability needs to be increased across the state. The recovery zones need to have response guidelines in place should there be a spike in COVID-19 cases after reopening measures are enacted.
Another possible regional approach to economic recovery would be to utilize a county-by-county approach. Deputy Republican Leader Tom Demmer recently proposed a plan to empower counties to create regional plans for COVID-19 recovery.
It isn’t reasonable to expect the Illinois Department of Public Health to create and implement 102 different plans to cover each county in Illinois. Instead, we should look to the health experts and officials who are already working within these counties. Together with county health departments, local hospitals and clinics, first responders, municipal officials, and other key stakeholders, we should empower the creation of regional plans for dealing with COVID-19.
This proposal would allow an individual county or group of counties to create, publicize, and implement their own regional plan for COVID-19 response. Each county already has a public health department, with experts who are working every day to protect public health and safety.
A county or group of counties would be required to consider and detail their response plan for specific criteria, including:
- Average daily testing counts, and plan to ensure ongoing testing levels
- Confirmed case count and trend
- Local availability of hospital beds, ICU beds, ventilators
- Local number of first responders, nurses, physicians, and healthcare personnel
- Surge plan, including mass testing and rapid response ability for suspected clusters
- Supply levels for testing swabs, personal protective equipment (PPE), and sanitizing products
- Number of community organizations and businesses who are participating in best practices to limit physical contact, ensure social distancing, and make accommodations to promote employee and customer safety
- Methods to communicate status and information to the public in a clear and timely way
A regional plan must include current COVID-19 data, as well as indicate specific benchmarks for how an improvement could allow for relaxed restrictions, while an increase of COVID-19 cases would require tighter restrictions.
A regional plan would give details on different phases of restrictions, with specific examples of what activity is allowed or prohibited during each phase.
A regional plan would require approval of relevant County Boards, County Health Departments, and hospitals, and submission to IDPH and to the public.
A successful regional plan would incorporate models, criteria, and phase recommendations from reports published by the federal and state government, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Governors Association, and other similar third-party validators.
Governor Pritzker’s Executive Orders would apply to counties or regions that have not formulated and approved their own response plans, but those areas that have taken the appropriate steps to create plans and win local stakeholder approval would be permitted to operate under their local plan guidelines.
Because of the specific criteria which must be addressed, a county could not simply decree that no restrictions apply. Instead, we set a universal threshold and then empower local officials to survey their area and make appropriate guidelines based on their circumstances and capacities. Some areas may see additional restrictions, and some may see fewer restrictions.
Already, local officials are having discussions like these. We believe it is appropriate and responsible to empower those with “boots on the ground” in each county to choose to create and implement their own plans. This approach will promote public health and safety while allowing for a more responsive and tailored approach to meet the unique needs of each region.
Assuring Public Buy-in
As the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders have continued, the general public has been deluged with an endless “information overload” of 24/7 news coverage, daily press briefings and coronavirus cases counts. With most Illinoisans at home, daily life under COVID-19 has taken on a “Groundhog Day” sense of repetition. Under these circumstances, there are concerns that the public may tune out the news and be lulled into a sense of complacency.
It is important that the State’s economic recovery plan take these considerations into account. We must ensure that any phased-in, regional recovery plan is presented to the public in an easy-to-understand manner that can be easily followed.
For example, Utah Leads Together, the State of Utah’s comprehensive plan to mitigate the economic consequences of COVID-19, utilizes a color-coded health guidance system to determine the risk to the public. According to Utah Leads Together, economic recovery is not like flipping a switch, it’s more like moving a dial. The color-coded health guidance system developed by the task force will guide Utahns as they make adjustments to open businesses, but still keep their most at risk populations safe.
Utah’s color-coded health guidance system includes:
- RED: High Risk (Stay Home, Stay Safe)
- ORANGE: Moderate Risk
- YELLOW: Low Risk
- GREEN: New Normal