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Amid pandemic, Illinois moves to expand vote-by-mail for 2020 general election

All four regions remain on track to move into Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois plan.

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As the state legislature in Springfield moved to expand Illinois’ vote-by-mail program, Gov. JB Pritzker said the bill could do more but is "a reasonable compromise." The measure advanced through an Illinois House committee Thursday.

The bill would require election officials to send vote-by-mail applications to everyone who applied to vote in the 2018 general election, the 2019 municipal election and the 2020 primary. The measure would apply only to the 2020 general election in November.

This came as President Donald Trump threatened to uphold funding for the state of Michigan as it moved to expand its vote-by-mail services.

“This has obviously been a Republican strategy all across the country, to deny people the ability to actually go to the ballot box, or to deliver their ballot to vote,” said Pritzker, speaking from Springfield on Thursday. “Republicans, generally speaking, have been in favor of suppressing the vote all across the nation. They think it’s bad for them if more people vote. I think everybody in the nation has the right to vote.”

Pritzker has threatened to withhold funding from municipalities if they don't follow the state’s stay-at-home order. Pritzker said his threats differ from the president's because municipalities would be breaking the law, whereas Michigan is not.

“There’s an awfully big difference,” Pritzker said. “The president is threatening to take away funds from states doing something that’s legal. … Talking about the possibility of holding up funding for local governments because they’re not following the law, that’s a much different thing."

Pritzker also noted that no funding has yet been withheld from any municipality.

Fiscal woes: The other focus in Springfield remains the state budget. The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a wrench into this year's plan. Last month, Pritzker said the pandemic likely has caused a $2.7 billion shortfall in state revenue.

“There’s no doubt that there are challenges in our balance sheet,” Pritzker said. “Right now, we have to focus on providing support for small businesses, for families, for people who’ve never been in this situation before.”

He also said that the state needs help from the federal government.

“Without it, this state and states all across the nation will end up laying off firefighters and police officers and nurses and so many other people in the services that people need,” Pritzker said.

Unemployment issues: Pritzker urged unemployed workers to keep trying to apply for benefits. He said any issues that might arise online or over the phone are because the Illinois Department of Employment Security is overwhelmed.

If a call is dropped, keep trying to call IDES, Pritzker advised.

"There’s no doubt that mistakes get made," Pritzker said. "The IDES employees are working so hard to try to get the job done."

Daily update: Another 87 people in Illinois died of COVID-19, and 2,268 more people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced Thursday.

The state has a seven-day rolling positivity rate of 14%. Illinois has now seen 102,686 cases of the virus, and 4,607 people have died since the pandemic began. A total of 672,020 people have been tested.

As of late Wednesday, Illinois had 4,107 COVID-19 patients in the hospital, snapping an eight-day streak of decreased total hospitalizations. Of those, 1,088 were in intensive care units, and 609 were on ventilators.

All four regions remain on track to move into Phase 3 of the governor's Restore Illinois plan.

Regional update: As of Monday, the Northeast region (Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, McHenry, Lake and Will counties) had a positivity rate average of 16.8%. The region also had an average of 19.4% of medical/surgical beds available, 21.3% of ICU beds available and 63.7% of ventilators available.

The North Central region (Bureau, DeKalb, La Salle, Lee, Ogle, Whiteside, Carroll, Boone, Winnebago, Stephenson, Putnam and Jo Daviess counties) had a positivity rate average of 6.7%. On average, there was an availability of 40.2% of medical/surgical beds, 42% of ICU beds and 60.3% of ventilators.

The Central region had an average positivity rate of 3.3%. On average, there was an availability of 49.6% of medical/surgical beds, 50% of ICU beds and 81.7% of ventilators.

The Southern region had an average positivity rate of 5.7%. On average, there was an availability of 46% of medical/surgical beds, 37.8% of ICU beds and 77.4% of ventilators.

Threshold for next phase: In addition to having testing available for patients, health care workers, first responders, people with underlying conditions, and residents and staff in congregate living facilities, and contact tracing and monitoring in place 24 hours after diagnosis, regions must hit the following thresholds to move on to the next phase in the Restore Illinois plan:

At or under a 20 percent positive rate and increasing no more than 10 percentage points over a 14-day period, AND

No overall increase (i.e. stability or decrease) in hospital admissions for COVID-19-like illness for 28 days, AND

Available surge capacity of at least 14 percent of ICU beds, medical and surgical beds, and ventilators.

Newly reported deaths:

- Cook County: 1 male 20s, 1 male 30s, 1 female 40s, 1 male 40s, 2 females 50s, 6 males 50s, 3 females 60s, 5 males 60s, 2 females 70s, 5 males 70s, 2 males 80s, 8 males 80s, 3 females 90s, 4 males 90s

- DuPage County: 1 male 60s, 1 female 70s, 1 male 70s, 2 females 90, 1 male 90s

- Kane County: 1 male 30s, 1 male 60s, 1 male 70s, 2 males 80s, 4 females 90s

- Kankakee County: 1 male 70s, 1 male 80s, 2 males 90s

- Lake County: 1 female 60s, 2 females 70s, 2 females 80s, 1 female 90s

- Livingston County: 1 male 70s

- Madison County: 1 male 70s, 1 female 90s

- McHenry County: 1 female 70s

- McLean County: 1 female 70s, 2 females 80s

- Rock Island County: 1 female 90s

- Sangamon County: 1 female 80s

- Stephenson County: 1 male 60s

- Will County: 1 male 70s, 2 females 80s

- Winnebago County: 1 female 50s, 1 male 60s, 2 females 80s, 1 male 90s

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