Editorial: We all will pay if only most take measures against coronavirus
Even as he moves the state to a deeper level of coronavirus mitigation, critics who portray Gov. J.B. Pritzker as a calculating authoritarian for his handling of the crisis might perk up their ears at comments he made Monday.
Asked to respond to the latest call from a statewide teachers union -- the Illinois Federation of Teachers -- for a statewide order requiring remote learning in public schools, Pritzker balked.
"It's right now not something that we're doing," he said. "But I will say that we've ensured a set of parameters that are safe for schools. We need schools to follow those parameters. Most are."
The crucial word there, of course, is most. The problem with a pandemic contagious disease is that all it takes is one ripe outlier to contract an infection and a door opens to spread the disease elsewhere. Most reduces risk, but not nearly as substantially as all.
Therein lies the distinction that characterizes so much of the public debate about how to deal with COVID-19 while we wait for the apparent promise of a vaccine to find its way into general distribution.
Taking school systems as an example, critics of a single coordinated response point to 852 diverse school districts across all of Illinois and declare, inarguably, that, among such a number, some districts are sure to suffer disproportionately, even unnecessarily. But supporters of centralized control counter, just as inarguably, as IFT President Dan Montgomery did Monday, that with pure local autonomy, "you can have neighboring districts where one is remote and one isn't" and that "presents us with a problem."
So, for the moment, the governor is leaving decisions about remote learning up to local schools, even as he imposes on other venues a return to restrictions that will close casinos, theaters and indoor recreation centers and curtail the operations of local businesses. It is not quite authoritarian, but hopefully it also is not without some reasonable calculation -- for, the soaring numbers, now at 10,875 Illinoisans dead and 597,849 sickened, must be figured into any coronavirus-response equation.
Regarding schools, Pritzker, admitted on Monday that leaving decisions up to local districts is "not ideal, by any means," and immediately added "but we have a COVID storm that's hitting, and I think, you know, the school districts are doing the best they can."
His restraint shows a measure of faith that districts will continue to prioritize safety as they decide how to manage learning. But it is perhaps instructive to apply his thinking of just one day later to the actions both of school districts and of all the rest of us.
"This is not a stay-at-home order," Pritzker said Tuesday of the move to the more restrictive Tier 3 mitigations. "But the best way to avoid a stay-at-home order is to stay at home."
Or, in other words, if only most of us take the message to heart, eventually all of us will face even worse consequences.