Chicago, suburbs hit testing milestone, on track to easing stay-at-home restrictions
Chicago and the suburbs appear on track to meet standards allowing the region by May 29 to relax the stay-at-home restrictions enacted to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday.
State officials announced Chicago and the suburbs had reached a milestone -- a positive average test rate of 19.9% for the respiratory disease, below the metric of 20%. That puts the region on a course to reopen more businesses and partially ease social distancing, assuming it maintains that level for 14 days.
"The trend for (the Chicago) region is downward, which is a very good sign," Pritzker said
Other key measurements are hospital admissions and availability of ICU and other hospital beds. The region is also meeting those requirements so far, he said.
Currently, the entire state is in the second of five phases, or "flattening" the curve of COVID-19 infections.
"It looks like all the regions are on track to meet the other marks to move into Phase 3," May 29, Pritzker said.
What does Phase 3 mean? Masks in public places would still be required as would 6-feet social distancing.
But gatherings of 10 or less people also will be permitted. And, nonessential manufacturing can resume operations, barbershops and hair stylists can open, and retail shops can open with capacity limits -- although all are subject to Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines.
Workers at nonessential businesses could also return to offices, but remote work is encouraged, and health clubs and gyms can offer outdoor classes or one-on-one training.
Schools and day cares would remain closed. Restaurants and bars would be limited to delivery, pickup and drive-through.
The number of Illinoisans dying from COVID-19 rose by 138 Thursday with 3,239 additional cases reported, officials said. That's the second largest daily count behind the 4,014 cases announced Tuesday.
It brings total deaths statewide to 3,928 and total cases to 87,937.
Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan lays down a five-phase plan to reopen the state on a regional basis with four separate sectors; Chicago with Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties comprise the Northeast region.
To reach Phase 3, regions 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.
"Every region is, so far, meeting all the metrics," Pritzker said.
Previously, the metro area had trailed the rest of the state in test results, provoking protests from some local leaders contending locations with worse metrics, such as Chicago, are dragging down their communities' economies. Unemployment rates have skyrocketed as a result of the pandemic and towns are losing millions of dollars in tax revenues.
Illinois Department of Public Health data Thursday shows DuPage, Will and McHenry counties with positive tests for COVID-19 at below 20%; Chicago, Cook, Kane, and Lake counties are above 20%.
Republicans, including GOP Senate Leader Bill Brady and Sen. Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods, have called for hearings about Restore Illinois when the legislature returns to Springfield on Wednesday.
"Due to his emergency proclamations, the governor has been operating without the natural oversight of the legislature for months," McConchie said.
Pritzker said it's important to adhere to state guidelines because the virus is still killing Illinoisans.
"To the elected leaders -- do your job. Be the person they elected who's supposed to be protecting your community. Don't fall prey to the rhetoric out there that says 'this virus doesn't affect me,'" he said.
The fourth phase is "revitalization" with schools reopening, and the fifth phase is a return to normalcy assuming a vaccine or viable treatment for COVID-19. Pritzker said he hopes "to get to Phase 5 relatively quickly, if we can."
The state is also launching a new website that lists job openings and lets employers post opportunities. The "Get Hired" website will also offer online training for workers in June. For information, go to illinois.gov/gethired.