CHICAGO — We are on the 25th mile of the coronavirus marathon, the state’s top doctor said Thursday — and officials are making plans for a return to the life we once knew.
As vaccine availability increases and more people across the state become eligible, Gov. JB Pritzker and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois Department of Public Health director, announced new guidelines for businesses and Illinois residents to get through what is hopefully the last phase of the coronavirus pandemic, which has left thousands of Illinoisans dead and devastated the economy.
“It’s time to begin to cautiously move to normalcy, and it’s imperative that we do so in a way that maintains all of the progress that we’ve made to date,” Pritzker said Thursday. “Moving forward, Illinois will advance toward normalcy with a dial-like approach, allowing us to dial up as things are improving. … We’re on the verge of the ever-elusive Phase 5.”
The announcement adds a “bridge” phase to the state’s reopening plan that was announced in May. All regions of the state are in Phase 4, which limits gatherings to 50 people or fewer and imposes restrictions on bars, restaurants and travel. Moving to Phase 5 now, which would largely allow everything to operate as it once did, would be a mistake, officials said. So, they created a transition period — the Bridge Phase — that keeps some restrictions in place as vaccinations ramp up.
The Bridge Phase will allow for higher capacity limits at museums, zoos, sports games and other businesses.
Barring any COVID-19 surges, Illinois will move into this Bridge Phase when 70 percent of the state’s population of people 65 and older receives at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. As of Thursday morning, 58 percent of those people had at least one dose, Pritzker said. This means we’ll enter this phase “relatively soon,” he said.
Then, if there are no surges in cases and deaths from COVID-19 for 28 days and at least 50 percent of Illinoisans 16 and older have gotten at least one dose, the state will move into Phase 5.
During Phase 5, there will be no capacity limits on businesses.
But Pritzker and Ezike stressed masks and face coverings should still be worn at all times outside the home, even when Illinois eventually moves into Phase 5. The state will not lift its mask mandate until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends it, they said.
New, more contagious COVID-19 variants are among us — and we must get more of the population vaccinated to avoid another surge, officials said.
“We cannot lose our momentum. … We absolutely will not have any mask-burning parties,” Ezike said. “We in Illinois know the importance of masks. We know that we still need to avoid crowds if possible and keep our distance.”
In Chicago, the Mayor’s Office also urged people to be cautious.
“… While we are pleased to see more details on statewide regulations — especially given the governor’s responsibility to govern for the entirety of the state — we continue to urge caution as we move to slowly and carefully reopen,” a spokesperson said. “Chicago is evaluating the guidance released today and will be releasing updated city guidelines early next week.”
If the state sees a steep rise in cases or a decrease in hospital bed availability 10 days into the Bridge Phase, officials will return to previous phases. The most important part of making this work, Ezike said, is signing up for the vaccine.
Ezike urged Illinoisans having trouble getting an appointment to keep trying or contact the state health department’s vaccine appointment call center at 833-621-1284.
“These vaccines are our fastest ticket back to hugging our grandkids, eating inside restaurants without worrying about the risk, school dances, community celebrations — all the things we miss about normal life,” Pritzker said. “So don’t let up. Join me in wearing your mask and getting vaccinated when it’s your turn. Step by step, we can get out of this the same way we got into it — and that’s together.”
Read the full “Bridge Phase” guidelines here:
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