Restrictions enforced because of the COVID-19 pandemic are loosening across Illinois as positive case numbers across the state have steadily decreased after spiking in the fall. This means that families can emerge from their homes to enjoy some of the attractions of Chicago and its suburbs again – with social distancing measures.
Over the weekend, Gov. JB Pritzker announced that the regions that include Chicago and its collar counties have reached Tier 1 Mitigation, allowing for the reopening of indoor dining in restaurants. The state had been in Tier 3 restrictions since Nov. 20, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot had extended the Stay At Home Advisory to end Jan. 22. The region reached Tier 2 Mitigation on Jan. 18.
As part of the Restore Illinois plan to combat COVID-19, the state was separated into regions based on hospital availability. Chicago is in Region 11 while Suburban Cook County is in Region 10 and Lake and McHenry counties are in Region 9 and DuPage and Kane counties make up Region 8. After Tier 1, an area can return to Phase 4 of Restore Illinois, which looks like the restrictions we saw during the Summer of 2020.
Most of the state reached Phase 4 – the Revitalization Phase – in late spring as 5 percent of tests in the area were returned with positive results, compared to the 31 percent our regions had in early April.
“We must remain vigilant if we are to maintain our progress. Honestly, that’s going to be up to each and every one of us,” Pritzker said at a press conference on Jan. 15. “To keep our schools open and see an economic recovery that restores jobs and businesses, we’ve got to wear a mask, limit interactions with people outside of our households and get vaccinated when it’s our turn.”
Vaccine distribution has also ramped up across the state. The Illinois National Guard was assigned to two Cook County locations to help with the vaccination process, and beginning the week of Jan. 25, the state planned to open vaccination locations at retail pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS, with additional mobile National Guard units and with state-run mass vaccination locations, the governor said.
Indoor dining in restaurants is allowed for the first time since November, with tables not exceeding four occupants indoors, while outdoor service and takeout continues
Gyms are allowed to hold fitness classes and resume operations under the Phase 4 guidelines of reduced capacity and frequent cleanings
Household gatherings can resume under public health guidelines (limited capacity and masks among members not of the same household)
Museums and cultural institutions can return to Phase 4 guidelines (those include capacity restrictions, timed disinfection requirements and mandatory masks on staff and guests)
Retail stores must not exceed 25 percent capacity, while grocery stores and pharmacies are allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity
In-person schools can remain in session as long as the district allows and is following the guidelines for in-person instruction
What does this mean?
When the state moved to Tier 3 Mitigation in November, vaccine distribution was still a month away. Now that more and more Illinoisans have been vaccinated – mostly front-line workers and health care employees – the state is moving closer to its Phase 4 requirements.
To advance to Phase 5 – the Illinois Restored phase – a vaccine needs to be in wide distribution and a region can go weeks without increased positivity rates of new cases.
To fully return to Phase 4, the Chicagoland regions have to show decreases in positive cases for two weeks and decreased capacity rates in hospitals.
In Region 11 (Chicago), the positivity rate has dropped from 10.3 percent on Jan. 5 to 5.4 percent on Jan. 21. In Suburban Cook County, the Jan. 5 positive rate of 11.7 percent has fallen to 5.6 percent. (In November, when the state implemented the Tier 3 Mitigations, Chicago’s positivity rate was 15.5 percent and Cook County’s was 15.9.)
However, Pritzker’s positive hope comes with a warning: “Clearly some progress has been made to combat this illness across our regions. But I want to stress that it’s incredibly important for Illinoisians to not let their guard down. We have now formally identified the first Illinois case of the more contagious ‘British Variant’ and on top of that there are new variants from Japan, South Africa, Nigeria and Brazil that we also know a little bit about, but again it’s the British variant that has been identified here in Illinois.”
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This story is updated regularly.