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Chicago’s Coronavirus Restrictions Not Getting Loosened Up Yet, Pritzker Says

Indoor service for bars and restaurants will now be allowed when a region moves to Tier 1, but no part of Illinois is at that point.

A sign telling guests to wear masks in the Lincoln Square neighborhood on Friday, May 29, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — Some parts of Illinois can loosen up on coronavirus restrictions — but Chicago’s not ready yet, state officials said Friday.

All regions of Illinois — including Region 11, which covers Chicago — have been under Tier 3 mitigations since Nov. 20, when a second wave of coronavirus was hitting the state. Gov. JB Pritzker said those mitigations will start to be lifted as regions have regained control over their outbreaks.

But, as of Friday, only three of the state’s 11 regions are eligible to move into Tier 2 and see some of the restrictions rolled back — and Chicago’s not among them.

“My great hope is that all of our regions will move out of the tiers of resurgence mitigations,” Pritzker said at a Friday news conference. “And, with vaccine shipments from Pfizer and Moderna hopefully increasing in the coming weeks and months, with new vaccinations potentially receiving approval from the FDA and with an organized, whole-of-government effort … gradually, as we move through the spring, we will see meaningful reductions in COVID illnesses and deaths.”

Regions 1, 2 and 5 will move from Tier 3 into Tier 2. Chicago will remain under Tier 3 mitigations for the time being.

Data shows most of the state’s regions “are on track to leave Tier 2 in the coming days if current trends hold,” Pritzker said. “Each of these tiers serves as a way to ensure that we prevent or slow down any potential surge of infections in response to more things opening up.”

The tier system limits or, at its strictest levels, bans indoor dining; puts tighter restrictions on how many people can be inside shops, gyms and other businesses; and closes large institutions, like theaters and museums.

There’s little difference between Tiers 2 and 3 under the state’s rules, though regions that do move to Tier 2 can resume some youth and recreational sports.

But there is a major difference at Tier 1: Pritzker said indoor service for bars and restaurants will now be allowed under that tier, though no region is at that point. Once indoor dining is allowed, businesses will only be able to serve tables of no more than four people, and only at the lesser of 25 percent capacity per room or 25 people.

Pritzker has said the tier system allowed Illinois to slow down the fall wave of COVID-19 that saw hundreds of people dying per week.

As restrictions are lifted, people should continue to take safety measures like wearing a mask and social distancing, officials said.

“Clearly, some progress has been made to combat this virus across our regions,” Pritzker said. “But I want to stress that it’s incredibly important for Illinoisans to not let their guard down.”

Critics have said the restrictions hurt businesses, as they’re forced to close down or can’t serve as many customers.

Earlier this week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she’d talk to Pritzker about ending the ban on indoor service at bars and restaurants. That would go against Pritzker’s tier system, and he dashed those hopes in his Friday address by saying regions couldn’t lift the indoor service ban until they move to Tier 1.

“Unfortunately, bars and restaurants, especially when there is community spread, are an amplification point for infection. And that’s been shown in study after study in the data that’s been presented,” Pritzker said. “So it is dangerous to reopen in an environment in which you haven’t reached the metrics that have been set out by the doctors, by IDPH, epidemiologists and scientists.”

To move down to Tier 2, a region must have a positivity rate of less than 12 percent for three consecutive days, declining COVID-19 hospitalizations for seven out of the past 10 days and more than 20 percent of its ICU and hospital beds available.

Chicago has not ticked that final box, as its hospital bed capacity has been below the 20 percent mark for nine consecutive days, according to the state’s website.

Regions’ metrics can be tracked online.

But Pritzker said Chicago is on the right path, as its daily deaths, new cases and positivity rate have come down in recent weeks.

“I’m hopeful,” Pritzker said. “I expressed that to the mayor, that we can move Chicago into lower tiers than Tier 3 sometime soon. But it will all be based upon the metrics we’ve laid out.”

In Chicago, 18 deaths and 1,266 confirmed cases were reported in the past day. There have been at least 4,410 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago and 222,965 confirmed cases, according to state data.

The city is seeing an average of 12 deaths per day, down from an average of 18 deaths per day the week prior.

An average of 1,165 confirmed cases are being reported per day, a 13 percent increase from the previous week. At the same time, testing has risen by 24 percent.

The city’s seven-day positivity rate is at 9.7 percent, down from 10.8 percent the week before.

How Regions Can Move Down

To move from Tier 3 to Tier 2 mitigations, a region must meet these criteria:

  • A test positivity rate below 12 percent for three consecutive days, as measured by the seven-day rolling average.
  • Greater than or equal to 20 percent available staffed ICU and medical/surgical hospital beds for three consecutive days, on a three-day rolling average.  
  • A sustained decrease in the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 for seven out of 10 days, on a seven-day average. 

To move from Tier 2 to Tier 1 mitigations, a region must meet these criteria:

  • A test positivity rate below 8 percent for three consecutive days, as measured by the seven-day rolling average.
  • Greater than or equal to 20 percent available staffed ICU and medical/surgical hospital beds for three consecutive days, on a three-day rolling average.  
  • No sustained increase in the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 for seven out of 10 days, on a seven-day average.

To move from Tier 1 to Phase 4, a region must meet these criteria:

  • A test positivity rate less than or equal to 6.5 percent for three consecutive days, as measured by the seven-day rolling average.
  • Greater than or equal to 20 percent available staffed ICU and medical/surgical hospital beds for three consecutive days, on a three-day rolling average.  
  • No sustained increase in the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 for seven out of 10 days, on a seven-day average.

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