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Sept. 29, 2020

Contact: Jamey Dunn-Thomason
               (217) 300-8409


 IGPA releases report identifying trends from survey of experts about COVID-19 policies

URBANA — The University of Illinois System’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) today released a report identifying trends from a survey of experts across the state about policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Policy Spotlight, titled Ongoing Expert Advice on Pandemic Policies, analyzes responses from several Pandemic Stress Indicator Expert Panel surveys, referred to in the report as “waves,” conducted over the summer.

This ongoing survey collects diverse, informed opinions from dozens of experts in economics, public health and vulnerable populations throughout the state, with a focus on evaluating the social and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Illinois residents.

Panelists were asked about a variety of topics, including who should drive policy related to the pandemic, what direction they think the state is headed on key indicators like case counts and deaths and what restrictions to daily life they find reasonable to help combat the virus.

“Leaders from every state in the country have been adapting policies on the fly, and at times, copying concepts from each other,” said Policy Spotlight author Brain Gaines, an IGPA senior scholar and professor of political science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Gaines conducts the Pandemic Stress Indicator Expert Panel for IGPA. “Even when policymakers seek the best scientific and medical advice, there are no easy choices. Serious social and economic tradeoffs come with many of the efforts to combat COVID-19. We are seeking feedback from multiple kinds of experts to better evaluate the inherent tradeoffs involved in pandemic policy.”

The panelists were asked which leaders should be setting policies around COVID-19 and how regional of an approach the state should take. About 48% said the governor should be in charge, while another 28% wanted state lawmakers to play a role. Only 14% thought that decisions should be driven by local leaders. As the state has gone from four to 11 regions for applying restrictions, the panelists have supported this increasingly regional, targeted approach.

The experts also shared their views about what policies they thought made sense and about their own level of comfort in participating in everyday activities. “It appears that crowding and congregating—whether in theatres, arenas, churches, gyms, etc.—is what worried our experts most, particularly when done indoors,” Gaines wrote.

Many in the group seemed to recognize a need for school and childcare options for working parents, but most panelists agreed that schools should prioritize using outdoor spaces whenever possible. The table below shows the group’s responses to various restrictions in Waves 4 and 5 of the survey. (Not all restrictions appeared in both waves, so there are blanks where they did not.)


Panelists forecasted how they believe each region of the state will be classified, in terms of the five phases of the state’s Restore Illinois plan, as of the end of 2020. The group has also noted whether they think new cases and deaths will decrease, stay flat or go up. Looking at these responses over time, the Policy Spotlight says they “strongly suggest that the experts are pessimistic about putting the pandemic behind us anytime soon.”

One panelist touched on a possible source for this pessimism in a response to an open-ended question about public opinion in Wave 4. “Policy, understanding and expectations are not in line with what infectious disease experts know—we are in the first mile of a marathon,” the panelist wrote.

As Illinois continues to grapple with the pandemic, IGPA will be regularly surveying the expert panel. All past survey waves, and future waves, will be posted on the newly launched webpage for the Pandemic Stress Indicator Expert Panel.

IGPA’s Pandemic Stress indicators are intended to assist public officials in making tough decisions, help inform the public and bring the lived experiences of people from all over the state to bear on decisions made during this pandemic. Since the inception of this expert panel, IGPA has also launched another Pandemic Stress Indicator, a journaling project that draws from the life experience of citizen-scientists throughout Illinois. In collaboration with I-STEM Illinois and the Family Law and Policy Program at the University of Illinois College of Law, IGPA has gathered citizen-scientists across Illinois to share how COVID-19 has affected them and their communities and to chronicle strategies for resilience.

Both Pandemic Stress Indicators and this Policy Spotlight grew out of the work of IGPA’s Task Force on the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic. At the request of U of I System President Tim Killeen, IGPA assembled more than four dozen interdisciplinary faculty experts from the three system universities to serve on the task force. All of the task force’s work, including additional Policy Spotlights, can be found on the IGPA’s webpage.


About the Institute of Government and Public Affairs
IGPA seeks to improve public policy discussion through non-partisan, evidence-based research and public engagement in Illinois. Learn more at igpa.uillinois.edu and follow @IllinoisIGPA for the latest updates.