The debate on that question shows no sign of abating. As I’ve written before, some of the steps Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered came across as arbitrary.
But as a question of sheer public health—keeping people from getting sick, going to the hospital and potentially overwhelming health care resources—the emerging answer is pretty clear. Yes, the economy was shut down and yes a lot of people were hurt by that, some very badly. But COVID-19 was tamed if not vanquished here. And the mayor, governor and millions of you who wore those nasty masks and gave up your ordinary lives deserve credit.
To put it a different way, just take a look at what’s happening in most states in the South and West, some of which reopened far earlier than we did, and some of which never pursued much of a lockdown to begin with.
Here in Illinois, the latest rolling seven-day average of positive results from COVID-19 tests is just 2.5 percent. The number of daily new cases is just a tenth of what it was at the peak both in the city and state. Almost half the state’s intensive care hospital beds are available, and new admissions to Chicago hospitals now average 16 a day from more than 160 in much of April.
That’s success. There’s really no other way to look at it.
In comparison, many states that reopened earlier and with fewer rules than Chicago and Illinois still will have—still gotta wear that mask, folks—are reporting absolutely horrendous figures.
In Miami, for instance, total COVID hospitalizations are at the highest level since April, and up a third just since June 12. Statewide in Florida, the percentage of tests that came back positive yesterday was 13.59 percent, more than twice what it’s been in the pandemic to date. The number of new cases Friday topped the 4,000 mark—higher than it ever was in Illinois—and though those cases are concentrated among younger people, a share of them, too, get gravely ill when infected.
In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey reversed course after the latest numbers came in and ized local mayors to mandate mask use. He had cause: The total number of COVID-related hospitalizations hit a record 1,952 this weekend, the 18th day in a row it surpassed the 1,000 mark. Eighty-five percent of the state’s ICU beds are in use. As recently as June 12, the highest daily total of new positive test results was 1,654. Since then, five of the last six days have topped the 2,000 mark.
In Texas, Harris County (Houston) Judge Lisa Hidalgo ordered mask use. Hospitalizations hit a record rate 10 days in a row. Positive tests hit a record 4,430 Saturday before dipping to “only” 3,866 on Sunday.
In Mecklenburg County North Carolina (Charlotte), average positive test results leapt from 85 a day in May to 241 so far in June, with 11 percent of tests positive. And while the pandemic appears to be mostly impacting young and healthier people, three people between age 40 and 59 died last week of COVID complications.
There’s similar data elsewhere, in Arkansas and California, Oklahoma and South Carolina and Georgia. We can argue about the economic cost. But we got something for our money: a much, much healthier state and city relative to regions that responded differently. And an opportunity to carefully reopen our economy while other parts of the nation are contemplating a slowdown.
Now, of course, we’ll find out whether Chicago and Illinois folks can keep it up and be a little more sensible in reopening than appeared to be the case elsewhere, with scenes of packed bars and maskless shopping. I’ll be the optimist on that. We’ve come so far, I don’t think people will casually throw it all way.
Congratulations. You have part of your life back, Chicago. Now don’t blow it.