Just a little Pritzker rant

Just a little Pritzker rant May 6, 2020

Pillow Fight, Piazza Maggiore, Bologna; https://www.flickr.com/photos/abusx/2565173933

Last night, I wrote a little piece at JaneTheActuary.com (my personal website which I mostly use for retirement stuff) about Pritzker’s (non-)re-opening plan.  But I try not to be too ranty on that site and, honestly, I’ve spent the entire day fuming at his plan, and am hoping that if I rant a little bit now I’ll be able to shake that and move on, which I sorely need to do (and I’ve already eaten half the clearance Easter bunny, and would probably have eaten a pint of ice cream if I had one).

For non-Illinoisans, it goes like this.

The state is divided into four regions — and already people in the greater Chicago area are pissed that they must meet the Chicago criteria regarding new cases, etc.  I guess this part I’m not as pissed about, because I’m mostly resigned to this.

There are five “phases” including a retconning that deems us already in “Phase 2” based on some tweaks to the shut-down that the governor declared effective May 1st.

Each phase lasts a minimum of 28 days, with the clock starting May 1st.

Some of the criteria sound fine enough:  metrics around test positivity rate, hospitalizations, ICU capacity, etc.

But the details are deeply dismaying.

To get to the next phase, in which business and manufacturing are permitted to open with restrictions, retailers with capacity limits, and healthcare providers may re-open — but in which restaurants are still shuttered and child care and summer programs are permitted on an unspecified “limited” basis, among other continuing restrictions, and no gathering of people may exceed 10, the state must have implemented a contact tracing system in which contact tracers begin the process within 24 hours of diagnosis.

And to get to “Phase 4,” in which schools and restaurants are re-opened, but restaurants, theaters, retail, etc. have capacity limits and all gatherings are restricted to 50 or fewer people, contact tracing must be fully (90%) implemented.

To get to “Phase 5,” the ending of the 50-person limit and other capacity restrictions requires a vaccine, a “highly effective treatment” (the governor’s statements make this clear that this is not simply reductions in complications but a complete game-changer of a treatment), or the elimination of the virus through herd immunity or other means.

So allow me to fume in an organized way.

In the first place, the Phase 5 plan makes no sense at all.  Yes, we might all hope that scientists do find a vaccine or a treatment.  But we can’t build a plan that imposes such incredibly-tight restrictions until that happens — and, let’s face it, it’s possible that that may never occur, or could be years away.  We simply can’t operate in this manner for this long.

And (per his comments at today’s briefing) nursing homes (and presumably assisted living communities) appear to remain on lockdown until Phase 5, again, possibly years away.  It simply isn’t viable to say that for months and months and months on end, the elderly may not have any human contact besides the staff at their facility.  This may keep them alive, but will be a terrible blow to their overall well-being.

And contact tracing is great — I’m squeamish about apps that involve Apple or Google reporting on where I am, and I am unclear about how far it’ll go (would it require quarantine if I’d merely been in the same grocery store as a newly-diagnosed person?  Yikes!, if so), but the principle is fine.  Yet how long would it take to implement?  Reports are “by late May” — but a local community college’s course of study starts on May 29, and is designed to be completed in three weeks.  Will the state outsource this, such as Maryland is doing (through NORC, with only a week of training)?  Or will this be run directly by the state?  The cynic in me says the state will require union hires with a dozen different roadblocks (diversity & inclusion checkboxes, union work rules, etc.) so that even beginning the program will be an ordeal, let alone scaling to 90% of cases, so that regions which have met the other benchmarks will be trapped in “Phase 2” and, subsequently, “Phase 3,” for week after week, month after month.  And a drive for “inclusiveness” could mean rural areas are held hostage to efforts to roll out contact tracing in Chicago.

In the meantime, businesses will invariably go out of business — but Pritzker (again, per his comments at today’s briefing) simply shrugs this off. Asked to respond to concerns about “mass permanent closures,” he simply passes the buck, to “doctors and epidemiologists that I’m listening to.”  Of course those doctors and epidemiologists can tell him about the safest course to maximize public health with respect to the virus, but it’s irresponsible to ignore the long-term consequences of shuttering so many businesses which simply will not re-open.

And there are so many unanswered questions, and pieces that make no sense.

When will the Secretary of State open to license new drivers?  How long will teens otherwise ready to drive to jobs have to cool their heels?

What sort of conditions will be placed on child care and summer programs?  Limits to “essential” workers?  Limits on capacity?

How on earth can schools operate in the fall when held to 50-person maximums?  Pritzker’s answer to this question yesterday was a garbage word salad of no help.

And at what point will Pritzker seek legislative authorization for his decrees, rather than ruling via one 30-day emergency decree after another?  When asked about that today, he produced another word salad.  I am definitely persuaded that these are illegal (see, for instance, Wirepoints), since the Illinois constitution sets the limit at 30 days and it is patently nonsense to justify 60, 90, 120, etc. days as merely multiples of 30 days; and the only reason I am not more outraged is that the legislature would presumably, if forced to, approve Pritzker’s decrees, but simply doesn’t want to be put in the position of having a vote on record.

Now, again, Pritzker really seems to have it firmly lodged in his head that in a realistically-small number of months we’ll have a widespread treatment which will enable people to, not only survive and stay out of the ICU, but even avoid the hospital or, indeed, any ill effects of COVID-19 at all.

(Today: “I’m very hopeful for and that is, we have many treatments that are in the works. The researchers and experts are hard at work now there’s one that’s been emergency approved by the FDA called remdesivir. I hope there will be many others and maybe by the time these larger events roll around we might be able to have a treatment that’s very effective.”  Yesterday:  ” if there is an effective treatment that comes out, and people can see that really you won’t get that sick if you get COVID-19. . ..”   But remdisivir is an intravenous medication, only appropriate for those who are already hospitalized, and it’s not going to somehow mean that we can shift people from sick in bed to asymptomatic.)

Does that mean that, later on, if he lets go of this hope (which is, let’s face it, not that different than Trump’s hope in hydroxychloroquine), he might start to formulate more reasonable plans?  Or will it simply be too late by then, as too many businesses have irrevocably shut down?  And, again, I have real concerns about Illinois’ ability to implement contact tracing effectively, rather than getting bogged down in all sorts of issues, in the same way in which, for instance, even the state’s pot legalization program got trapped in programs ensuring that it was all run in an “inclusive” and “socially just” way.


Final two items:

the morons refusing to wear masks, and the CDC’s having caused so much distrust by their initial “masks are dumb” statements.  Ugh.

And the fact that, with churches now being permitted to hold gatherings of up to 10 people, Cupich is forming a committee to start to think about a process to plan some new regulations, and in the meantime, in the Chicago area, churches remain locked, even for purposes of private prayer.  Ugh.

Rant over — or, at least, I hope I can shed this aside and go back to the approach I am trying so hard to maintain, of “do what I can, accept my powerlessness otherwise.”

How are you doing?

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