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'Restore HOI' Regional Reopening Plan Ready for Primetime in 7 To 10 Days, Officials Say

Tim Shelley / Peoria Public Radio
Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich answers press questions about the Restore HOI plan on Friday, May 15, 2020.

Peoria officials said Friday they'll be ready to implement their regional phased reopening plan in the next week or so.

"It's going to take seven to 10 days for us to put together the protocols and guidelines that we need for our plan," Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich said. "That's going to move us pretty close to that point in time where we would be into the next phase of the governor's plan. So we'll have to see how that all fits together."

"This is not something that we're going to be able to turn on overnight," Peoria City/County Health Department Administrator Monica Hendrickson said.

For now, the area is largely staying within the parameters outlined in phase two of Pritzker's plan, with the exception of East Peoria.

The four regions defined by the governor can move to the next reopening phase on May 29 at the earliest. As of Friday, all four regions are on track to meet the mark to begin reopening offices, barbershops, salons, and allowing larger gatherings.

At the Wednesday press conference unveiling the Restore HOI plan to the public, Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis said a negative answer from Pritzker wouldn't necessarily stop the region for pressing on.

"If the governor comes out and says no, our plan is going to continue to move forward," Ardis said.

But in response to reporter questions Friday on what happens if the governor formally disapproves of the plan or doesn't respond at all, Urich would only say he hopes feedback arrives within the seven to 10-day window.

"We're still waiting on feedback from the governor's office, and still waiting on feedback from IDPH, to see just exactly what they think of that, how it's going to work, and how we can operate within that together," he said.

Urich said the governor and Ardis discussed a regional reopening prior to the HOI plan's submission last week. The governor has yet to issue a specific response to elected officials or media on the Restore HOI Plan. But on Wednesday, the governor warned he may withhold federal pass-through funds designated to counties which opt to veer away from his statewide plan.

“There will be consequences. Business and individual professionals that are licensed by state agencies will be held accountable for breaching public health orders," Pritzker said. "Counties that try to reopen in defiance may not be reimbursed by FEMA for damages they cause because they ignored the law.”

Urich said these are "important points that need to be worked out."

"We obviously want to make sure that we don't jeopardize anyone's state license. And we want to make sure that that's done," he said. "Just as it's important that make sure that we're not jeopardizing any funding opportunities for local government to get reimbursed for any of the expenses that we have."

In a situation where the governor expresses his disapproval, Ardis said Wednesday that state-licensed businesses like bars and salons will need to take that into consideration before opening.

The HOI plan was sent to Pritzker on May 8 and introduced to the public on Wednesday. It proposes separating an 11-county chunk of Central Illinois from the large "North-Central" health region defined in the governor's "Restore Illinois" plan, and allowing the subregion to reopen more quickly.

The plan was endorsed by OSF HealthCare, UnityPoint Health, and Heartland Health Services, as well as several area mayors.

Like the governor's plan, the Restore HOI plan relies heavily on various medical metrics like ICU and hospitalization usage and COVID-19 positivity rates to gauge phase implementation. Officials emphasized the similarities and overlap between the two plans Friday, but there are some disparities.

The Restore HOI plan would permit restaurants and bars to reopen immediately at 50 percent occupancy. The governor's plan wouldn't allow that until Phase 4, which couldn't happen for any part of the state until the end of June, at the earliest.

"The key difference is the liquor license. That's going to be your key difference between the two plans," said Hendrickson. "And I think there's been a lot of dialogue around it. And one thing that we've always addressed with the Heart of Illinois plan is that we're more than willing and wanting to be flexible with our plan."

Hendrickson said some communities within the 11 counties will have better capacity than others to take on some aspects of reopening highlighted in the HOI plan, and allowances will be made for that.

Those counties include Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford, McLean, Fulton, Stark, Marshall, Putnam, LaSalle, Bureau, and Livingston.

The plan has met with approval from the mayors of Pekin, East Peoria, Bloomington, Canton, Germantown Hills, and Washington, among others.

But other elected officials within the 11-county area say they're reluctant to buck Pritzker's executive order. Others, like Livingston County Board Chairman Kathy Arbogast, say they were taken entirely off-guard by it.

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