Pritzker eases child care restrictions, will allow outdoor religious services in Phase 3

Illinois child care centers might reopen as soon as May 29 when some COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and many workers return to jobs, but they won't be at full capacity.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the policy Friday and also said religious organizations would be allowed to have outdoor and drive-in worship services as early as May 29.

Amid a call by President Donald Trump to reopen churches immediately, Pritzker said outdoor services are as far as Illinois will go for now.

"We do not want parishioners to get ill because faith leaders bring them together," he said, adding the vast majority of religious organizations are working within the rules.

The news came as the number of tests performed approached 700,000, 5.5% of the state's population.

Deaths from the respiratory disease spiked by 110 Friday, the IIlinois Department of Health reported, slightly higher than the 14-day average of 107 per day. There were 2,758 additional cases compared to the two-week average of 2,228 per day, officials said.

Yet, the entire state is on track to enter Phase 3 of a five-phase, four-region reopening program next Friday, Pritzker said.

That allows "hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans to go back to work in the industries that are eligible to reopen in the weeks ahead," he said.

"But we can't have a conversation about going back to work without talking about child care. If we don't have child care, a large portion of the workforce, especially women ... will be without any way to move forward," the governor said.

In all, 4,715 Illinoisans have died from the respiratory disease and 105,444 cases have been diagnosed statewide. In the last 24 hours, 25,113 people were tested with a 10.9% positive rate. Overall, 697,133 COVID-19 tests have been performed.

Some child care facilities have been open but looking only after children of essential workers who were exempted from the state's stay-at-home order.

"To date, Illinois has not seen significant transmission of COVID-19 in child care settings, which is encouraging evidence that child care can be provided safely," Pritzker said, adding the effects of disease on children is still being studied.

For the first four weeks after a center reopens or expands, up to 10 children will be allowed per classroom. That will be increased if the centers adhere to social distancing and health department guidelines. Licensed centers in private homes should be able to open at full capacity.

Children older than age 2 will be required to wear masks if they are medically able to, and centers will need to have detailed reopening plans prepared.

The briefing was held in Springfield as the General Assembly convenes to grapple with a massive budget shortfall caused by plummeting tax revenues.

On Wednesday, Pritkzer pulled a controversial executive rule enabling police to charge businesses that flout the stay-at-home order with a Class A misdemeanor, which could mean a fine of up to $2,500 and jail time. It was castigated as overreaching his authority by Republicans.

Pritzker had hoped Democrats would spearhead replacement legislation but acknowledged Friday it appears "that is something (the legislature) does not want to raise. I'm very disappointed. They are a coequal branch of government ... and it is their obligation to do their duty."

Officials also advised residents to keep social distancing over Memorial Day weekend.

"Your individual human behavior including wearing a mask and keeping 6 feet of distance, those are the weapons we have right now to overcome this virus," IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike said.

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