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Coronavirus In Chicago: Reopening Plan Shows ‘Normal’ Life Is A Long Way Off

"Until we have a vaccine or an effective treatment or enough widespread immunity that new cases fail to materialize, the option of returning to normalcy doesn't exist," Gov. Pritzker said.

A person wears a mask in the Lincoln Square neighborhood on Monday, April 27, 2020. Starting May 1, All Illinois residents are required to wear face masks in public. | Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Gov. JB Pritzker unveiled his highly anticipated plan for reopening in Illinois — and though it carves a path for things to return to normal in Chicago, it also highlights how far off normal is.

The plan is meant to reopen Illinois and revitalize the economy while saving as many lives as possible from coronavirus, which means every step must be taken gradually.

“This is a very real and terrible enemy that has forever altered families here at home and across the nation, and when we talk about what’s next we cannot forget those we have lost and those we will lose in the days and weeks and months ahead,” Pritzker said when unveiling the plan Tuesday.

The plan breaks Illinois into four regions, with Chicago and its surrounding suburbs in the Northeast Region. It’s this region that’s faced the most severe outbreak of COVID-19 in the state.

Each of the regions will have to meet certain medical and hospital goals — like having a decline in cases, which Chicago hasn’t experienced yet — to progress to the next phase of reopening.

For example, Chicago is currently in Phase 2, dubbed the “flattening” phase. During this phase, people can participate in some activities, like golf, so long as they practice social distancing and following the stay at home order. This phase will last until at least May 29, officials cautioned.

But after that, if the Northeast Region sees cases start to decline and hospital capacity frees up, Chicago and the suburbs could move on to Phase 3 and, eventually, Phase 4.

With each step, more businesses will be able to reopen and there will be fewer restrictions. But people will be required to wear masks through Phase 4, and large gatherings will remain banned. And schools, restaurants and bars won’t be allowed to reopen until a region has entered Phase 4.

It won’t be until the final phase, Phase 5, that things return to a new normal. Pritzker cautioned that won’t happen until there are no new cases for a prolonged period or there’s a vaccine or effective and widely available treatment for COVID-19.

Experts have predicted a vaccine or treatment are likely months away.

Once that does happen, large events like festivals and concerts will once again be allowed and the economy will be fully reopened, officials said.

But even then, experts will create new guidelines for large gatherings that reflect lessons learned during the pandemic.

“Here’s the truth, and I don’t like it anymore than you do: Until we have a vaccine or an effective treatment or enough widespread immunity that new cases fail to materialize, the option of returning to normalcy doesn’t exist,” Pritzker said. “That means we have to figure out how to live with COVID-19 until it can be vanquished, and to do so in a way that best supports our residents’ health and health care systems and saves the most lives.”

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, gave an impassioned speech pleading with Illinoisans to continue to stay home so the virus’s spread slows and the crisis ends.

“I know that May has signaled a change — not only a change in the calendar month, not only a change in the weather, the season, but also a change in some people’s psyche,” she said. “The change has highlighted an increased sense of cabin fever and a desire to get out and get back to what people perceive as what their previous normal was and wanting that back so much. There’s so much pressure for us to get back to that normal because we have all faced this unprecedented disruption to our lives.”

But people must remember that thousands of people have died, and the fight continues, she said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has a press conference at 1 p.m. and Pritzker has his daily briefing at 2:30 p.m.

Coronavirus Cases

• There have been 65,962 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois as of Tuesday afternoon. Many of those patients have recovered since testing positive.

• At least 2,838 people have died in Illinois as a result of the virus.

• There have been 26,611 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chicago and at least 1,096 people have died.

If You Need Help

• Sick? Broke? Want To Help? Here’s A Massive List Of Coronavirus Resources In Chicago

What’s Happening In Chicago

Reopening: Pritzker unveiled his five-step plan for reopening Illinois and restarting the state’s economy.

Concerts, Festivals: Large events will remain banned in Illinois until there’s a vaccine, widespread and effective treatment or no new cases for a prolonged period.

“Still At War:” Though the weather is getting nicer, people must continue to stay at home so Illinois can win its war against COVID-19, Ezike said.

• Restaurants: The city’s eateries are urging customers to skip GrubHub and similar services and order directly from them so they can make it through the crisis.

• Help for Artists: The statewide Artist Relief Fund is again taking applications.

• Food Supply: Pop-up food pantries are coming to the South and West sides to aid people during the pandemic.

• Housing: The city created a “pledge” to put pressure on banks and landlords to keep people in their homes amid the pandemic.

 Deaths: Coronavirus has likely killed hundreds more people in Illinois than has been counted by the state, a new analysis found.

• Domestic Abuse: Survivors of domestic violence can get free hotel rooms during the pandemic.

 Masks: Everyone is now required to wear a face covering or mask when unable to social distance. And yes, stores can require you to wear a face covering if you want to shop.

Here’s what you need to know about the requirement.

• Testing: Officials are now saying anyone with coronavirus symptoms can get tested in Illinois. Before, they’d advised most people to simply stay at home and assume they had coronavirus.

Here’s where you can get tested in Chicago.


Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.

Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.

The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The most common symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chills and shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Loss of taste and/or smell

People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion and runny nose, according to Harvard Medical School.

If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.

How To Protect Yourself

Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:

  • The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
    The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
  • Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you have to sneeze or cough with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.

What To Do If You Think You’re Sick

Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.

If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where COVID-19 is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus. Anyone who feels unwell has been ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.

Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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