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Chicago Announces Vague Plan To Reopen, But Lockdown Could Last Longer If We Don’t Stay Home In May

Like the state plan, the city reopening plan relies on declining coronavirus cases and hospital capacity. But there are no dates or specific businesses named.

Enrique Reyes Martinez
  • Credibility:

CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot revealed a plan to reopen Chicago and jumpstart the economy Friday, though it lacked specifics about when businesses can actually reopen.

Lightfoot’s plan comes just days after Gov. JB Pritzker unveiled his own five-phase plan for reopening Illinois. The governor’s plan divides Illinois into four regions — with Chicago and its surrounding counties as part of the Northeast Region — that will progress differently through the five phases depending on their case growth and hospital capacity.

The city’s reopening plan is very similar to Pritzker’s, but there is an ability to move between phases every 14 days instead of every 28 days. Currently, Chicago is in Phase 2 of the city’s plan, which is focused on continued social distancing while the curve flattens.

Here are the other phases laid out by the mayor, all of which will depend on hospital capacity and the growth of COVID-19 cases, she said. Unlike the state plan — which dictates when salons, restaurants and other businesses can reopen — the city plan is more focused on public gatherings.

Phase 1: A strict stay at home order.

Phase 2: Stay at home order continues, with limited outdoor activity allowed only among people in your household. Face coverings are also required. This is the phase we’re currently in.

Phase 3: Some businesses can cautiously reopen with strict social distancing guidelines.

  • Non-essential workers begin to return to work in a phased way
  • Select businesses, non-profits and city entities open with demonstrated, appropriate protections for workers and customers
  • When meeting others, people must physically distance and wear a face covering
  • Non-business social gatherings limited to fewer than 10 people
  • Phased, limited public amenities begin to open
  • Stay at home if you feel ill or have come into contact with someone with COVID-19
  • Continue to physically distance from vulnerable populations
  • Get tested if you have symptoms

Phase 4: Continued staggered reopening into a new normal; goal is to further reopen Chicago while ensuring the safety of residents

  • Additional business and capacity restrictions are lifted with appropriate safeguards
  • Additional public amenities open
  • Continue to wear face covering and physically distance
  • Continue to distance and allow vulnerable residents to shelter
  • Get tested if you have symptoms or think you have had COVID-19

Phase 5: Continue to protect vulnerable populations until there is a vaccine, treatment or the virus stops spreading.

  • All businesses open
  • Non-vulnerable individuals can resume working
  • Most activities resume with health safety in place
  • Some events can resume
  • Set up screenings and tests at work or with your family
  • Sign up for a vaccine on the COVID Coach web portal

“We’ve begun to flatten the curve of Chicago’s COVID-19 cases; however, as I said before, we must never confuse promising gains with outright success,” Lightfoot said. “We are not at the point where we can begin reopening our city yet. The light at the end of the tunnel is absolutely there, but it’s still just a glimmer, and we still have a long way to go before we can safely return to the way things were before.”

The city is working with people from various industries to inform its reopening strategy, Lightfoot said.

The mayor also asked Chicagoans to complete a survey to weigh in on the reopening plan. You can fill it out here.

People need to “through the month of May continue to abide by the stay at home order. That is what has flattened the curve for us so far,” said Dr. Allison Arwadyhead of the Chicago Department of Public Health. “That, most fundamentally, will get us on the other side and going down.”

Health Requirements

The city also released a set of epidemiological factors it will use to decide when it can move from Phase 2 to Phase 3. Unlike the state plan, the city will reevaluate this data every 14 days — not 28 days. It will also make the data available on its COVID-19 website.

  • COVID-19 Case Rate (over 14 days, as a rolling average):
    • Declining rate of new cases, based on incidence and/or percent positivity
  • Severe Outcome Rate (over 14 days, as a rolling average):
    • Stable or declining rates of cases resulting in hospitalization, ICU admission, and/or death
  • Hospital Capacity Citywide (over 14 days, as a rolling average):
    • Hospital beds: Fewer than 1,800 COVID patients
    • ICU beds: Fewer than 600 COVID patients
    • Ventilators: Fewer than 450 COVID patients
  • Testing Capacity:
    • Test at least 5 percent of Chicago residents per month
  • Testing Percent Positivity Rates (over 14 days, as a rolling average):
    • Congregate: Fewer than 30 percent positive tests
    • Community: Fewer than 15 percent positive tests
  • Syndromic Surveillance (over 14 days, as a rolling average):
    • Declining emergency department visits for influenza-like illness and/or COVID-like illness
  • Case Investigation & Contact Tracing:
    • Expanded system in place for congregate and community investigations and contact tracing

State Plan Too Slow, Critics Say

Pritzker’s plan is slow-moving, placing an emphasis on saving lives over speeding to reopen businesses as other states have done. It says life will only return to normal here when there’s a vaccine, widespread and effective treatment or a prolonged period with no new coronavirus cases.

The plans come as Illinois — and the nation — are reeling from economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. A jobs report released early Friday showed more than 20.5 million jobs were lost across the country in April and unemployment has skyrocketed to 14.7 percent — numbers not seen since the Great Depression.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce said the state’s plan is too slow. If businesses can adopt safety protocols, they should be able to open now, Todd Maisch, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.

“Undisclosed epidemiological standards applied to arbitrary geographical boundaries should not keep people from earning a living,” Maisch said. “All places of business that can reopen and rehire safely should be allowed to do so as soon as possible. The statewide protocols should apply as equally to an employer on the West Side of Chicago as they should to an employer in DuPage or Effingham Counties.”

RELATED: How Can Chicago Reopen After Coronavirus? Here’s How We Did It After 1918’s Spanish Flu

Pritzker said Thursday that Illinois alone paid out more than $2 billion in unemployment benefits in the first four months of 2020 — which is already $500 million more than what was paid out in all of 2019.

More than 1 million people filed unemployment claims in the nine weeks after March 1, Pritzker said. By comparison, 180,000 people filed claims in Illinois during the first nine weeks of the Great Recession in 2008.

Since the start of the pandemic, at least 1,206 people have died of COVID-19 in Chicago, which accounts for 38 percent of all coronavirus deaths in Illinois. The city also has recorded 28,567 confirmed cases of coronavirus, which is about 40 percent of the state’s total confirmed cases.

Previously, Lightfoot said her plans for the recovery of Chicago would focus as much on emotional and physical healing as on economic rejuvenation.

The mayor created a task force in April to plan the city’s recovery. Members of the task force are looking at how to stimulate the local economy, help with the mental and emotional health of Chicagos, spur business development, coordinate across the region and make an economic change study.

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