CHICAGO — The city and state are set to move into Phase 4 of reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic Friday — but the next stage, when things will return to “normal,” is much further off.
That stage, Phase 5, can only come when there’s a widespread, effective treatment for coronavirus, if there’s a vaccine or when there are no new cases of COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time in Illinois, according to the state’s plans.
Work on vaccines and treatments is progressing, but health officials have recently said a vaccine is still months from being approved.
So while the state has moved quickly through phases 2 and 3 of Gov. JB Pritzker’s reopening plan, Illinois will likely be in Phase 4 for longer.
“If the question is, ‘When can you drop your face covering? When can everything go back to what it was like in January … ?'” Pritzker said during a Tuesday press conference. “The answer is, that’s an answer that scientists would tell you and that I’m listening to, which is it takes either a very effective … treatment [or a vaccine].
“I think we’re all watching, hoping, praying that there will be something developed in the near future.”
Here’s what you need to know:
What’s The Difference Between Phases 4 And 5?
Phase 4 is when people are rebuilding what school and work life look like until Phase 5 sees things return to “normal,” Pritzker has previously said — though “normal” might also look very different from what life was like before the pandemic.
Still, many things have already returned or will when Phase 4 starts Friday: Restaurants and bars can have indoor dining, schools can reopen this fall, gyms can start having people work out indoors. People will be able to gather in groups of 50 or fewer.
But all of those things face restrictions, like limits to how many people can dine indoors at a time or how many people can be in a room at school.
And during Phase 4, people will still need to wear face coverings in public, keep 6 feet away from others and wash their hands frequently.
Once Illinois finally moves to Phase 5, things will return to a new normal and the last few closures will be lifted: The economy will fully reopen, large events like festivals and conventions can be held and all businesses, schools and recreational activities can return, according to the state’s plans.
Even then, there will be “new safety guidance and procedures,” according to the state’s plans.
But people will no longer be required to wear face coverings in public or practice social distancing during Phase 5, signaling an end to the crisis.
How Do We Get To Phase 5?
Illinois can only move into Phase 5 when there is a vaccine, an effective and widely available treatment or if there are no new cases recorded “over a sustained period of time through herd immunity or other factors,” according to the state’s plans.
It’s estimated 70 percent of people would have to recover from the coronavirus for there to be herd immunity. In Chicago, that’s far off.
Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said officials estimate there have been 200,000-250,000 cases of coronavirus here. Even if there have been 250,000 cases, that would mean less than 10 percent of Chicago’s population of 2.7 million people has recovered and potentially has immunity.
Based on the 70 percent estimate, more than 1.8 million Chicagoans need to get and recover from coronavirus for there to be herd immunity here.
As Arwady put it last week: Chicago is nowhere near herd immunity.
But experts have been working on developing vaccines and treatments.
When Are Vaccines Coming?
Arwady said last week she estimates there will be a vaccine next year. If that happens, it will have been exceptionally quick: The ebola vaccine was one of the fastest ever to be developed, and that took four years, she said.
To speed up the process, the FDA has loosened its usual restrictions on vaccine trials, allowing them to “merge or run concurrently,” according to Vox.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a congressional hearing Tuesday he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the development of a vaccine and he thinks one could be available by the end of 2020 or in early 2021.
At least one vaccine trial is set to enter Phase 3 study by July. That one, which is from the biotechnology company Moderna, has had “positive interim” data, according to Vox.
Other vaccine trials are just a few months behind that one.
Arwady previously said that while a vaccine might be developed soon, it likely won’t be 100 percent effective. For example, people who are vaccinated might still get COVID-19, but the vaccine could ensure their symptoms aren’t as bad, she said.
Because there will be high demand for a vaccine, the state will prioritize getting them to people who are the most vulnerable, like seniors and people with underlying health conditions, officials have said.
Pritzker said he does want everyone to get the vaccine, and he’ll soon consult with Fauci to determine how the state decides “who goes first” on getting one.
Arwady said she thinks there will be settings where people are required to have been vaccinated against coronavirus, like schools and some workplaces, but that will “be a conversation down the line.”
In the meantime, people should continue to practice social distancing, wear face coverings and wash their hands frequently, officials advised.
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