JOLIET, IL — Several Will County Republican candidates in the Nov. 3 election say the Illinois Department of Public Health coronavirus data used to restrict Joliet area bars and restaurants from being open for indoor guests is flawed and it's not accurate data.
About a dozen Will County Republicans gathered Friday morning outside the Will County Courthouse in downtown Joliet to hold a news conference to discuss their complaints with Gov. JB Pritzker, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Will County Health Department Executive Director Sue Olenek.
"We know the virus is real, but these numbers are not," declared retired Will County Sheriff's Investigator Nick Ficarello, who is running against Democrat Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant in the Will County Executive race to replace the late Larry Walsh Sr.
"I hate to say it, but I believe we are living in a state of deception here in Illinois and in Will County," remarked Ficarello, who lives in Manhattan.
Ficarello said he remembers when the U.S. endured the Hong Kong Flu of 1968 and 1969, and about 110,000 people died when the country had 239 million people.
"We did not shut down businesses. We did not shut down schools," Ficarello announced Friday. "It was called the Hong Kong Flu because it came from Hong Kong."
Will County Board member Gretchen Fritz, District 5 Republican from Plainfield, said she does not believe Will County's coronavirus data is accurate, either.
Fritz is running on the Nov. 3 ballot for Will County Recorder of Deeds.
On Wednesday, Joliet Chamber of Commerce vice president Mike Paone appeared on Joliet's news radio station WJOL to explain how he believed he uncovered instances of double-counting of coronavirus cases here in Will County, thus, throwing off the county's totals.
Fritz contends the totals have been inflated because Pritzker wants to unfairly target the people in Will and Kankakee Counties. "We are never going to get an accurate positivity rate," Fritz said.
Fritz and others ripped Olenek, suggesting that the county health department director is using "tattletale techniques" to encourage Will County residents to notify her staff of bars and restaurants that may not be complying with all the coronavirus restrictions being imposed.
Fritz handed out a letter to reporters, written by Olenek on Aug. 31. The letter states: "If you see an establishment not complying with the requirements, feel free to call our COVID-19 hotline 815-740-8977 or go to our website and submit a complaint via the email@example.com link.
"We will investigate and do any required follow up, and if necessary, enlist the assistance of our local law enforcement agencies. Our goal is to gain compliance through education and support to make the Will County community a safe place to be."
Ben Bierly, who is running for Illinois Senate District 43, spoke at Friday's news conference, declaring, "Government should not be closing down our lives permanently."
Bierly also believes the Will County coronavirus positively rates "were overinflated."
Will County Republican Chairman George Pearson called on the immediate end of the "draconian restrictions" currently imposed of Joliet area indoor restaurants and bars.
"Our businesses supply income to a lot of our friends and family. To have the county department of health ... have people go out and tattle on businesses is crazy. Let's start telling our people the truth, please, please, stop lying to us," Pearson said.
Shorewood resident Tom McCullagh is the Republican candidate for Illinois State Senate District 49. He absolutely supports the reopening of all indoor Will County bars and restaurants.
"I spent many years inside the restaurant industry and everyday they are used to sanitizing, cleaning, food control and safety issues," McCullagh remarked Friday. "I feel restaurants should be open and that a lot of the restaurants that were closed down for months are now hanging on by a hair and we need to let people feel it's their own personal safety if they want to go and get some steak or if they want to get food, let people go out and get food. Let those business owners have the opportunity to save their family business."
District 11 Will County Board member Julie Berkowicz of Naperville, said that the coronavirus restrictions are creating additional mental illness, drug overdoses and addiction problems, including an increase in suicides. "There is an underlying cost we are experiencing in Will County," she remarked. "We need to give people their lives back so they have hope. We need to let people earn a living and live their dream and have something to look forward to."
Will County Health Department Spokesman Steve Brandy attended Friday's news conference so he could hear the complaints being made by the county's Republican candidates.
Brandy disagreed with the suggestion that Will County's coronavirus statistics are way off. He also disputed the notion that Gov. Pritzker wants to punish Will County and Kankakee County for political gain. "I don't believe anybody is targeting Will County," Brandy told Joliet Patch.
Brandy said it may be several more days before Pritzker eases the restrictions put on bars and restaurants about three weeks ago because of alarming coronavirus totals in Will County.
Brandy pointed out that 368 people "here in Will County have lost their lives and (Thursday) there were four new deaths. That's the first time we reported four new deaths (on the same day) since early June."
Brandy said that people in their 20s now make up more than 20 percent of all new coronavirus cases. "So that's why people are so concerned about colleges and parties."
"Nobody is making the whole thing up from scratch," Brandy said. "Hopefully, things gradually do get better."
On a positive note, Will County has had only one coronavirus death of someone in their 20s, Brandy said, but that does not mean young adults and children should not take the disease seriously.
His advice to everyone is to keep washing your hands frequently, maintain proper social distancing when outside in public and always wear a face mask.
By late afternoon Friday, Brandy issued his latest Will County coronavirus totals to news media outlets including Patch.
According to the Will County Health Department data, a total of 12,727 local residents have been diagnosed with the coronavirus illness since the county started keeping track in March.
Since Thursday, Sept. 10, another 76 people in Will County were diagnosed with the coronavirus. Will County also reported one more death, bringing the total to 369, Brandy noted.
Other Will County Republican candidates attending Friday's news conference were: James Piacentini, coroner candidate from Crete; Anthony Granata, Circuit Clerk of Court candidate from New Lenox; Raquel Mitchell, County Board District 3 candidate from Bolingbrook; Dr. Gerald Smith, County Board District 13 candidate from Plainfield; and Steve Balich, County Board member District 8 from Homer Glen.