All the suburbs in Phase 4 likely on Wednesday, though with tougher limits in Cook County
DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties expect to see relaxed COVID-19 restrictions starting Wednesday, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced.
The four counties will join the rest of the region in entering Phase 4 of the state's plan to control the spread of COVID-19. It allows gatherings of up to 50 people, capacities of 50% in stores and fitness centers, and puts youth sports like basketball back in business.
Movie theaters can also operate with up to 50 people or 50% capacity, whatever is less, among other changes.
Masking in public and social distancing are still required.
Suburban Cook County officially moved into Phase 4 Tuesday, and Will and Kankakee counties did so on Monday.
But in Cook County, authorities are imposing stricter rules within Phase 4 "to protect the public health," officials said. Chicago did the same recently.
For example, under Phase 4 in most places, seated areas in restaurants don't have capacity limits, but tables must be 6 feet apart. Suburban Cook County restaurants, however, must stay at 25 people indoors or 25% capacity, whichever is less, the Cook County Department of Health ordered Tuesday.
It's essentially the same as tougher "Tier 1" restrictions that the state moved from after COVID-19 case and hospitalization counts dropped.
Other nuances of Cook County's rules: Movie theaters can operate with 50 people or at 40% capacity, whichever is less; indoor fitness centers must adhere to 40% capacity limits; and "big box" stores that combine groceries and other merchandise cannot be more than 40% full.
That the shift comes in time for Valentine's Day has restaurateurs exhaling, Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia said.
"We're seeing the light at the end of tunnel," Toia said. "It's been a very bad situation for the industry."
For student-athletes, Phase 4 has some nuances that divide sports from low to high levels of risk with various levels of play depending on the likelihood of spreading infection.
Basketball is considered high-risk, so teams have been limited to scrimmages. But they can now play with other schools, although the players must always wear masks even on the court.
"I think students are all excited to have the opportunity to play," Barrington High School Athletic Director Michael Obsuszt said. While it's not quite the same with shortened seasons, "the fear of not having a season at all makes our athletes appreciate the opportunities they do have."To upgrade to Phase 4, regions must have a positivity rate for COVID-19 tests of 6.5% for three consecutive days, hospital ICU beds must be at 20% availability for three consecutive days, and there must be no sustained increase in COVID-19 patients for seven out of 10 days.
The four counties are "on track" to meet those goals, the IDPH reported Tuesday.