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Harrisburg council won't defy governor's stay-at-home order, encourages letter-writing campaign instead
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Harrisburg council won't defy governor's stay-at-home order, encourages letter-writing campaign instead

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HARRISBURG — The Harrisburg City Council decided not to defy Illinois Gov. J.B. Prtizker’s stay-at-home order by allowing retailers, hair and nail salons to open May 1 as Mayor John McPeek originally proposed. Instead, McPeek and council members opted for a softer approach. They are encouraging area government and business leaders to write letters to the governor asking that he begin to take steps to further loosen restrictions in areas with relatively few COVID-19 cases.

Harrisburg Mayor John McPeek

McPeek

During a special meeting Tuesday morning broadcast via Zoom, the council heard from several Harrisburg business owners who believe they should be able to begin accepting clients again, with restrictions. But McPeek said the potential consequences are too risky for the city to endorse a policy in opposition to the state’s. Some of the business owners also said that, while they want to open, it would not be worth it for barbers, cosmetologists and aestheticians to risk their state licensure.

But they do hope to send a message to the governor.

Katrina Cerutti, the sole proprietor of Curleq Salon on East Logan Street, and a cosmetology instructor at Rend Lake College, said she has not had an income since March 21, when the original stay-at-home order went into effect. Cerutti said people in her business know how to properly sanitize, and could agree to only have one customer in their shops at a time. “Why in the world can I see three of my clients in Kroger while I’m shopping, yet I cannot see one client at a time that I personally know,” she said.

Stephanie Church, who also owns a hair salon, said that it seems to her that the governor is deciding policy for the whole state mostly based on what’s happening in Chicago with COVID-19. “There’s a point where he cannot govern us down here the same way he is governing up there,” she said.

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In a statement read on his behalf, Sonny Wynn, owner of Fancy Nails Salon in Harrisburg, said the stay-at-home order has been “financially devastating.” Jerry Hunt said he was asked to read Wynn’s statement because of a language barrier. In the statement, Wynn said his business has taken numerous steps to keep customers safe in anticipation of reopening, including placing clear plastic barriers between manicure and pedicure stations. Wynn said his business is a critical service to the community, and would help provide some sense of normalcy during uncertain times. “It relaxes them and boosts their self-esteem and boosts our economy,” he said.

Dale Fowler mugshot

Fowler

Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, and Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis, both spoke at the meeting in favor of a regionalized approach and said they continue to push the governor to move in that direction.

Patrick Windhorst

Windhorst

“When we say a regional approach, what we’re saying is certain areas that are less affected should have fewer restrictions,” Windhorst said. “We’re not saying there should be a complete and immediate reopening of those areas. It’s a careful, common-sense approach. I believe we can do this in our areas.” That said, Fowler, the former mayor of Harrisburg, cautioned the city against passing a policy that would violate the stay-at-home order, because of potential consequences to business owners.

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Cerutti, the hair salon owner, said she appreciated the lawsuit brought by Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, who sued Prtizker in his home county, and suggested that the city of Harrisburg consider something similar.

In his lawsuit, Bailey argued that the governor’s authority to issue a stay-at-home order under the Emergency Management Act expired after 30 days, and that subsequent extensions of the order violated Illinois citizen’s civil rights. On Monday, Clay County Circuit Court Judge Michael McHaney issued a temporary injunction allowing Bailey to disregard the order. The order applied exclusively to Bailey, but could have far reaching consequences if others follow suit. The state is appealing the decision.

During his televised news conference on Tuesday, Pritzker called the lawsuit a “cheap political stunt.” But he added that as “absurd” as he believes the lawsuit is, he is taking it seriously because of the risk it poses with the court setting a “dangerous precedent.”

Pritzker said he understands the economic sacrifices that people are making across the state. He said he is making decisions with the order based on guidance from scientists and health experts to keep people safe across the state.

“For two months, not a second has gone by where the economic impact on our working families and our small businesses hasn’t been an important and paramount consideration of my decision making,” he said.

During Tuesday’s news conference, Pritzker noted that while case numbers are fewer in downstate Illinois compared to Chicago and Cook County, some Southern Illinois counties have some of the highest death rates when examined on a per-capita basis.

“The danger has not passed yet, no matter whether you live in Little Egypt, or in Freeport, or in Quincy or in Chicago,” he said.

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One person at the City Council meeting spoke in favor of the stay-at-home order, and urged the city not to defy it. “I’m not a Prtizker fan, but I can say that I am doing my best to follow the rules,” said Christie Bailey, with Little Angels Learning Center, which continues to provide daycare services for essential employees. “I just want to be safe,” she added.

Pritzker said he believes that responsible people “understand the tradeoffs and the consequences of reopening too early.”

Harrisburg Unit 3 Superintendent Mike Gouch said he believes there are also serious consequences to taking too long to begin reopening some businesses in parts of Southern Illinois. He said the school district started off serving 5,000 meals a week, and is now serving 13,000 meals weekly because of increased need.

“We’ve got people that are going hungry. We’ve got people that are going homeless,” he said. Gauch said that he understands the “very, very difficult position” the governor is in, but said he feels a regionalized approach is necessary to mitigate far-reaching, long-term economic consequences for the region and its families.

Empty classrooms, churches, bars and stores: Southern Illinois COVID-19 impact, in photos

molly.parker@thesouthern.com

618-351-5079

On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​

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