A family arrives as 6th thru 8th graders return to in-person learning at Richardson Middle School in the West Lawn neighborhood on March 8, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — An updated plan for reopening Illinois as the pandemic’s end near will be released this week.

With vaccinations ramping up — and even more doses expected soon — and cases and deaths plateauing, officials have said the end of the coronavirus pandemic is in sight. City and state leaders are looking for ways to safely lift restrictions and bring back a semblance of normalcy, with Gov. JB Pritzker expected to announce later this week an update to Illinois’ reopening.

Pritzker laid out a plan in May that said Illinois would move into a final phase, Phase 5, and operate under a “new normal” when vaccinations were widespread; if there was an effective, easily available treatment; or if there was a significant, prolonged drop in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Illinois is currently in Phase 4, meaning businesses still operate under some restrictions and there are limits on how many people may gather at once. The updated plan coming later this week is expected to detail how Illinois will move into Phase 5 and what restrictions could be eased up on before then.

Pritzker’s plan, created with doctors and other experts, has changed throughout the pandemic. Notably, he introduced a tiered system of restrictions for each region of Illinois during the fall surge in cases. Those changes have earned him praise for some — and criticism from others, who think the restrictions hurt businesses and workers.

One thing that won’t change anytime soon: “Masks have to continue to be a mainstay,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said at a Senate committee hearing Monday, according to the Tribune.

Ezike said the state is “getting close” to lifting restrictions, according to the Tribune.

Pritzker said last week he and the state’s experts are looking at what restrictions they can roll back, but they need to judge that against the continuing risks of the pandemic — especially since more contagious variants of the virus have been found in Illinois.

“We’re getting closer every single day to the end of this pandemic, but we’re not there yet,” Pritzker said.

While Chicago has largely followed Illinois’ reopening plan, the city is allowed to impose more restrictive coronavirus safety rules than the state’s. The city has released a roadmap detailing what metrics it will use to lift restrictions from businesses as it gets better control of its COVID-19 outbreak.

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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