State enters Phase 3 as COVID-19 claims 86 more lives
As restrictions on business operations and gatherings loosened Friday throughout the state, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state health officials congratulated residents on their fortitude during the past three months.
"This brings to an end Illinois' stay-at-home executive order," Pritzker said during his briefing. "As we end this phase, it is important to take note that the people of Illinois have taken this seriously and that has made all the difference."
But he cautioned residents to be mindful of taking precautions to prevent further spread of COVID-19 as state health officials announced 86 more deaths related to the outbreak that has claimed 5,270 lives in Illinois.
"The virus is still out there and it is still very dangerous," Pritzker said. "Our number-one priority must be the health and safety of workers, families and all of our state's residents."
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike echoed the governor's cautious optimism.
"I trust all of you in your communities will model safe practices, social distancing and face coverings to minimize transmission of this virus," she said. "We must take personal responsibility to continue the reopening, but safely."
State health officials also announced another 1,622 residents had tested positive for the disease, bringing the total number of infections to 117,455.
Only 7.4% of the tests returned Friday were positive for the disease. During the past week, the state is averaging a 7.8% positivity rate for COVID-19 tests.
Spare a few weekends during the past month, Pritzker has held daily briefings since mid-March. He announced Friday was the last of those daily briefings. Future coronavirus-related briefings will be announced when necessary, he said.
Health officials will keep an eye on the state's infection rate during the next month to determine if restrictions on movement and gatherings can be loosened further. The earliest that can happen is June 26, Pritzker acknowledged recently.
Places of worship are also being allowed to open to parishioners this weekend, after several filed suit against the state and Pritzker. The governor still urged religious leaders to worship safely.
"All along, I have followed the science, and I would recommend that every faith leader do that," he said. "What I have done is implored leaders to not gather parishioners, not break up a service or interfere with religion."
State parks, summer camps and other organized activities are also opening under the current phase.
"Things, as they open up, also mean that (there are) opportunities to catch COVID-19," Pritzker said. "Wearing your face covering in public and other people wearing theirs is an enormously important thing to do going forward."
Pritzker also said he hoped to make testing more widespread in the coming months. The state has been hamstrung by a shortfall of testing equipment, such as swabs and chemicals. Currently, the state is averaging about 23,000 tests a day.
He urged anyone who needs to get tested to find a testing site near them. Many are not that busy, he noted.
"We're trying very hard to pinpoint the most vulnerable communities, make sure there's testing there, while also making sure it's available to everyone in the state," Pritzker said. "We don't get to pick every location, just to be clear. It's harder to do in a drive-through circumstance because you need to have the space."