CHICAGO — The city could move to Phase 4 of reopening amid coronavirus as soon as July 1, Chicago’s top doctor said Friday.
That phase will see gyms, museums and zoos return, though with capacity limits; restaurants will be allowed to offer indoor dining; and groups of 50 or fewer people will be able to gather, Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said during a Friday press conference.
But Chicago can only move to Phase 4 and see those reopenings if COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to decline, Arwady said.
“If people can hang in there and keep doing the things we know work, the things that have given us the progress we saw in the month of May, we will be OK to continue that cautious reopening carefully,” Arwady said. “But if people think COVID is over, we will have trouble here, no doubt about it.”
Chicago has now had 48,924 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 2,359 deaths. It’s seeing an average of 232 new confirmed cases and 18 deaths per day, which is “dramatic and rapid” progress from earlier in the pandemic.
More than 42,000 people have recovered from coronavirus here, Arwady said.
But Chicago needs to see fewer than 20 new cases per day to be considered low-risk, Arwady said, “And we are just a long way from that here in Chicago.”
‘The Way We Move Ahead’
It’s possible Chicago could move into Phase 4 even earlier than July 1, Arwady said, but that’s only if things go very well in coming weeks.
The city is still waiting to see what impact, if any, recent protests over the police killing of George Floyd will have on coronavirus cases in Chicago. Thousands of people have gathered during the protests, potentially increasing the risk for spreading COVID-19.
Arwady said she is concerned the city, which has seen declines in COVID-19 cases and deaths, might now see those numbers flatten or even increase.
But Arwady noted many protesters have worn masks — and people have gathered in other ways amid the warming weather, which also increases the risk of spreading coronavirus.
“I do think in some ways the protests have been a very visible sign of the ongoing risk of COVID. In some ways, I think the protests have served to remind people that there are risks,” Arwady said. “Even more than the protests, it’s the decisions people make every single day” that will affect the city’s curve.
To prevent any setbacks, people should continue to wear face coverings, stay home if sick, wash their hands frequently and not put other people at risk, especially those who are 60 or older or have underlying health conditions, Arwady said. She added people at protests should try to stay 6 feet apart.
And the doctor noted the city is trying to move slowly, particularly as about 20 states that reopened more quickly are now seeing upticks in cases.
“The way we move ahead here is the choices that each one of you makes every day. The city can work to think carefully about reopening. Businesses are working very hard to make them as safe as they possibly can be,” Arwady said. “But the decisions that you make … [are] especially important as more businesses continue to open.
“We are looking to continue to move ahead even in Phase 3 … as long as progress continues to be good. We don’t want to experience a setback now. And you can help us be different from a lot of these other states if you keep COVID in mind.”
If Chicago does see cases increase, it will pause its plans for reopening — or it might even reverse course and return to the stay at home order, Arwady said.
Seeing hospitalizations rise, in particular, would be worrisome, Arwady said.
“That would be a major moment for pause and recalibration here because we all have seen what can happen if you overwhelm your health system,” Arwady said. “As long as things are stable or declining, we’ll move ahead.
“But if we’re seeing signs of trouble, we’ll let people know and ask them to double down … . A last step would be taking a step back” into shelter in place.
For now, city officials are looking at what they can continue to reopen during Phase 3. Arwady said they might have announcements on that next week, though she did not provide further details.
The city is also still working on what industries will reopen during Phase 4 and what restrictions they’ll face. While tourist spots like museums and zoos could reopen, they’ll have capacity limits, as would gyms, Arwady said.
According to the state, bars would also be able to reopen during Phase 4, but Arwady did not explicitly say that would be the case in Chicago.
The rest of the state could progress to Phase 4 even sooner — as early as June 26, Arwady said. That’s because the rest of Illinois moved into Phase 3 on May 29, while Chicago didn’t move to Phase 3 until June 3.
Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.