Illinois Mayors are considering how their cities will eventually reopen as the State relaxes coronavirus restrictions.
On Thursday, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced a modifed stay at home order for the month of May. Earlier this week, some communities were pressured to re-open small businesses. Mayor Greg Jury of Loves Park said any moves should depend on location.
“The cases that are in Cook County and the five collar counties are probably 90 or 95% of the state, and I realize that’s probably where the population is too, but it shouldn’t be treated the same," he said. "That’s what we’re asking -- It shouldn’t be one size fits all.”
And Loves Park Treasurer John Danielson said he’s heard concerns from small businesses about long-term consequences.
“What it does to small businesses is not linear," he said. "I think at some point it becomes exponential and you start to see the severity of this thing grow. We’ve got people’s lives and livelihoods and families and everything else that are on the line now and the longer this goes, the worse it gets.”
Business closures have also affected sources of city revenue, such as property and sales taxes. Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said this, in turn, has cut into city budgets.
“We don’t print our own money," he said. "We by law have to pass balanced budgets every year, so we can’t wait a year and delay and have a two-year budget. This is stuff where the rubber meets the road. We have to do these things and we need the federal government to stand up and help us.”
Despite the economic consequences, mayors are reticent to open businesses all at once. McNamara said there needs to be an adequate testing regime in place.
“We just have about 1% of our entire county that's been tested, so we’re getting that same pressure that we’re all are getting that 'hey, we have such low cases, let’s open up everything," he said. "But the fact is that we have very few that have been tested because it hasn’t trickled down in the way I believe that it should.”
Though case numbers vary wildly by city, mayors like DeKalb’s Jerry Smith said social distancing is having an impact.
“I think hopefully this is a result of the residents from the City of DeKalb joining others in using a common sense approach as they try to deal with this extraordinary situation.”
Though that doesn’t put a halt to new infections. Mayor Richard Irvin of Aurora was himself infected with coronavirus, and said the disease needs to be taken seriously.
“It doesn’t treat you nice at all. You feel terrible. I went through heck. I like to say I went to the edge and back.”
McNamara added that coordinating the reopening of cities on a wider, regional basis is more practical than each doing it on their own.
“We have so many people who either live in our area and work elsewhere or live elsewhere and work in our area," he said. "That would just be too hard to have so many, 1300 different rules doesn’t make sense.”
McNamara said he believes there are also practical measures that can be taken to level the playing field between types of businesses.
“Hey, I can go to Target and buy a pair of tennis shoes, but I can’t go to a local shoe store that sells them. That’s hard to jive. So I think we can open up a curbside delivery to have that be that first phase, work out some of those kinks. I mean if our restaurants can be curbside, so can some of these local retailers as well.”
The Governor’s modified order addresses some of these concerns.
And Irvin added that as businesses and services slowly reopen, the daily routine will not be the same as before.
"We’re still going to have to practice social distancing. We’re probably still going to have to wear masks until we get some kind of vaccine or know a whole heck of a lot more about COVID-19.”
Mayors continue to seek ways to reduce the uncertainty regarding how and at what pace cities reopen.