NOV 10, 2020

A Republican lawmaker who represents parts of McLean County said the state’s own contact tracing data does not support such a hard crackdown on indoor service at bars and restaurants.

Dan Caulkins’ district includes LeRoy, Downs and Heyworth. Caulkins, of Decatur, has been critical of the Pritzker administration’s approach on the pandemic.

Caulkins questioned how much weight the Pritzker administration is placing on the COVID testing positivity rate metric. That rate, once it crossed 8% for three straight days, singlehandedly triggered new COVID mitigations in McLean County’s Region 2, including a ban on indoor restaurant and bar service. Some restaurants are simply ignoring the new rules.

Caulkins said some counties in Illinois don’t have enough testing, which raises the rate.

“The only people that get tested in Macon and Piatt and DeWitt counties are people that have come in contact with a COVID-positive person or have symptoms of COVID. Period. That’s it,” Caulkins said. “So if you’re only testing (those people), what are you gonna find? You’re gonna COVID patients. So the governor uses that number—the number of people tested, and the positivity rate in that number—to make a decision to destroy the lives and livelihoods of the small-business community in Illinois. That’s wrong.”

Testing has expanded statewide in recent months. Each day between 70,000 and 90,000 people in Illinois are being tested—and the positivity rate is still rising.

Caulkins also is concerned that restaurants and bars are paying a disproportionately high price for the spread of COVID cases statewide. Newly released contact tracing data from the state show over 9% of outbreaks since July 1 were traced back to restaurants and bars, and another 10% of potential exposures were traced back to restaurants and bars.

However, that data provides only a partial view at the potential role of bars and restaurants in how COVID spreads, limited to only those people who contact tracers actually reached. There also is compelling science behind the restrictions, including a recent CDC study that showed adults who tested positive for the coronavirus were about twice as likely to have dined out within a two-week period prior to becoming sick.

Caulkins said that’s not definitive.

“We threaten them with their liquor license or gaming license. We threaten and threaten and threaten. And that’s not the most likely place to get COVID,” Caulkins said. “It’s long-term facilities, prisons, large gatherings of people. Weddings. Gender reveals.”

Caulkins said he's not "discounting the fact that COVID is serious." He said his brother was hospitalized for six days due to COVID.

So why would the Pritzker administration take these steps, if not motivated solely by the science behind them?

“Because they have to do something,” Caulkins said. “They have to show we’re doing something to try and control the spread. The easiest, the quickest place to go, is after bars and restaurants and churches. You go after these soft targets.”

WGLT asked Caulkins what should be done, if not closing bars and restaurants, to stop the uncontrolled spread of a virus that’s killed more than 10,200 Illinoisans.

“Leadership, rather than bullying. Helping. Providing the necessary testing and encouraging people to do the right thing rather than beating them with a stick,” Caulkins said. “The governor has lost the confidence of the citizenry.”