What Qualifies As An 'Essential Business' And What Does Not? There Are Shades Of GrayBy Chris Tye

CHICAGO (CBS) — Illinois on Monday evening was just over the 48-hour mark of sheltering in place for the “stay-at-home” order due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With a full weekday in the books, many have had questions about what should and should not qualify as essential. CBS 2’s Chris Tye had some answers Monday – and some information about the gray area concerning what exactly qualifies as “essential.”

It took Gov. JB Pritzker’s team 11 pages to try to answer what is essential. By now, you now grocers are, but barbers and nail salons are not.

But where it gets murky – and where it gets some people angry – is construction.

When Pritzker constructed his policy on what is essential work in a post-COVID-19 Illinois, he gave wide berth to the industry that puts thousands to work in the state.

The order said in part that essential businesses included, but were not limited to “construction required in response to this public health emergency, hospital construction, construction of long-term care facilities, public works construction, and housing construction.”

“To me, I just feel they’re really putting a lot of people in a lot of risk,” said Madeline Kidd.

Kidd’s ex-husband, who is the father to her kids, works at a construction site at a downtown office tower. On Monday, work continued there – and CBS 2 found workers both in close proximity and without masks.

“I don’t think new construction for corporate offices downtown are essential,” Kidd said. “I think that’s people worrying about the bottom line of how much money they’re going to make.”

With narrow platforms and tight elevators, being outside does not mean being out of harm’s way. Kidd’s pediatrician encouraged the kids’ father to steer clear of the children until risk factors drop.

“Now he can’t see his kids, you know, none of those things, because there’s a risk that he’s been exposed,” Kidd said.

The president of the Chicago federation of Labor on Monday told CBS 2: “There are ways to run those jobs and be compliant with all CDC and OSHA guidelines. But it’s not a given that every site will be operated in that manner.

“We ask workers at those sites: if proper protocol isn’t taking place, call your union and alert them.”

Stepping away from construction, there are some big gray areas in the matter of what is essential and what is not.

Deemed essential are everything from pot and liquor to safety and sanitation, funeral homes, accounting firms, daycares, night nurses, and even car dealerships.

As to the text of the order, the definition of businesses dealing in safety and security and cleaning can be very widely interpreted – for one example. So we dug a bit deeper on Monday and talked with Pritzker’s office.

The governor’s office said if a business owner is unclear about whether they are good to go, there is a hotline set up through the Department of Commerce.

And here is where it gets even more gray – we called that hotline to see how effective it was, and we could not reach a human being. We got a voicemail account that was so full it could not take our message.

So we emailed and got an auto-reply with no clear answer of how long it would take to get an answer.

Thus, the road to finding out if you’re essential is essentially filled with land mines. Everyone is stretched these days, so be prepared to wait.