Pritzker says Illinois is a go for Phase 3 Friday, starts thinking about Phase 4 in late June
Illinois meets all requirements to ease COVID-19 restrictions Friday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday while dangling the possibility of a return to near-normalcy in four weeks.
The state also softened its approach to religious organizations after a few churches protested limits on the number of people who can attend indoor worship services.
The loosening restrictions comes as the number of COVID-19 deaths climbed by 104 in one day and cases rose by 1,527, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said.
On Friday, the state will enter "recovery," or Phase 3 of a five-phase, four-region reopening program, allowing outdoor dining at restaurants, barbershop and salon visits, and gatherings of 10 or fewer, among other changes from the March 21 stay-at-home order.
If the four regions follow health metrics, such as decreasing or stable hospitalizations, they collectively or separately could move into Phase 4, or "revitalization," as soon as June 26. That stage would let schools reopen under health guidelines. But it still would limit social gatherings to 50 people or fewer.
"The calendar starts tomorrow," Pritzker said Thursday. "June 26 is the earliest possible date and we will watch the metrics closely in hopes we move forward expeditiously" to Phase 4.
"The goal is and always has been to keep people safe from coronavirus while restoring more of our normal activities," he said.
Amid lawsuits from some churches claiming their rights were being violated by the stay-at-home order, Pritzker announced the Illinois Department of Public Health had provided "guidance, not mandatory restrictions, for all faith leaders to use to ensure the health and safety of all their congregants."
The guidance urges faith organizations to hold remote services or drive-in services outdoors as the safest way to worship. It recommends indoor services of 10 or fewer people, but in cases "where the 10-person limit cannot be followed in places of worship," it offers advice such as sitting 6 feet apart or limits of 100 people.
Since the pandemic began, 5,186 Illinoisans have died from the respiratory disease, and there have been 115,833 cases statewide. Meanwhile, the seven-day positivity rate for COVID-19 tests is at 8.3%, reflecting a downward trend.
For a region to move forward, it must have an infection rate of 20% or lower over two weeks, hospital admissions for COVID-19 illnesses must stay level or decrease for 28 days, and at least 14% of ICU, medical and surgery beds must be available.
Officials also will monitor to see if COVID-19 cases increase after businesses reopen.
If we have a spike and we need to quell that spike -- we might potentially have to move backward," Pritzker said.
"It's not something anyone wants to do."
Schools have been closed since mid-March, but in Phase 3 summer camps and youth sports can operate with small groups, social distancing and masks.
"The doctors have given instructions for counselors and coaches so summer programs can be restored with safety measures," Pritzker said.
Of the Illinoisans who died from COVID-19, 44% were in long-term-care facilities.
The state health department on Thursday filed emergency rules requiring nursing homes to develop comprehensive testing programs for residents and staff members.
Those who ignore the rules will be subject to penalties that include fines or actions against their licenses.