Can state strike a balance for a more 'normal' summer? What officials say

  • About 2,400 vaccines were administered at a mass vaccination clinic at the former Carson Pirie Scott location at 970 N. Lake St. in Aurora recently.

    About 2,400 vaccines were administered at a mass vaccination clinic at the former Carson Pirie Scott location at 970 N. Lake St. in Aurora recently. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/17/2021 6:54 AM

A summer more like 2019 than 2020's empty stadiums and canceled festivals could be on the horizon, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker expected to ease COVID-19 limitations on activities in the coming days. But the optimism comes with caveats.

"Assuming that our numbers continue to be stable or decline and that we continue to see really good uptake in vaccine, I fully expect that this summer will look more like two summers ago," Chicago Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady said Tuesday at a briefing.

 

"But I want to be clear, Europe is seeing surges in COVID-19 again despite the fact they are also rolling out vaccines. There's not a 'for granted' we won't have any more trouble here," she said.

In easing restrictions, it's unlikely the state will jump from its current Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan with capacity restrictions and face masks to Phase 5, Illinois Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said Monday. That last stage, with all sectors of the economy reopened, requires a vaccine and treatment for COVID-19 or no new cases over a sustained period.

Instead, Illinoisans might see a "Phase 4," said Dr. Michael Bauer, medical director at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital.

The challenge will be to strike "that balance between trying to get back to more 'normalcy' without jumping too fast and putting us at risk for having to step back," Bauer said.

With some restrictions already eased, many suburban schools are moving toward returning to full in-person learning.

And after announcing cancellation plans last week, organizers of Frontier Days in Arlington Heights said Tuesday their nonprofit board planned to meet to possibly reconsider their decision.

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"There's all this good news coming out -- the positivity rates, the number of cases are dropping, the number of deaths each day are dropping, hospitalizations and ICU rates are all dropping," Bauer said.

Yet, "people are still getting sick, people are still going to the hospital, and people are still dying. Fortunately those numbers are decreasing rather than increasing, (but) we're not out of this yet," Bauer said.

Nineteen more people died from the respiratory disease and 1,997 more virus infections were reported Tuesday by IDPH. The average daily fatality count in March is 29 people compared to 46 a day in February. Illinois hospitals were treating 1,152 COVID-19 patients Monday night.

Total cases statewide stand at 1,212,110, and 20,973 Illinoisans have died since the pandemic began.

The state also reported 125 cases of more contagious COVID-19 mutations diagnosed in Illinois. Those include 120 of the United Kingdom variant, three of the South Africa variant and two of the Brazil variant.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A move toward greater normalcy began last week when the Pritzker administration changed social distancing requirements for students in classrooms from 6 feet to 3 feet, increasing the capacity of classrooms and school buildings. Numerous suburban districts, including Naperville Unit District 203, Northwest Suburban High School District 214 and Libertyville Elementary District 70, have announced plans to shift from hybrid schedules to full-day in-person learning in April.

The evolving situation is a conundrum for local summer festival organizers.

"Like many of our neighboring communities, the city has decided to cancel our early summer special events, including the Taste of Des Plaines and the first few Friday Night Live events," said Jennie Vana, Des Plaines' director of media services,

"We will continue to monitor reopening plans and can consider making adjustments as this evolves. We know residents enjoy our hometown events and miss them, as we all do."

Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, agreed the governor's new plan could involve a Phase 4A -- and possibly a Phase 4B.

He's hoping restaurant workers will be included as essential workers under current vaccine eligibility rules, since they come into close contact with the public.

"There's no question, (COVID-19) has been devastating for the industry," Toia said.

Also devastating would be backsliding to increased restrictions for restaurant capacity. "That would be really, really, bad," Toia said. He said 124,000 restaurant industry workers lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

Demand for vaccinations continues to exceed supply.

On Monday, 78,287 more people received COVID-19 shots. The seven-day average is 102,564.

As of Tuesday, 1,563,294 people -- 12.27% of Illinois' population -- have been fully vaccinated, an 87% increase from 835,597 individuals on March 1.

Cook County Health Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Pedersen dismissed social media rumors about leftover vaccines being available to people who show up at the end of the day at mass vaccination sites. Appointments are required for inoculations, she said.

"All of our vaccination sites, including Tinley and Des Plaines, have a strict vaccine no-waste reconciliation process," she said. "Our no-show rate is very low, as it is at all other sites, because the demand for the vaccine is so high."

Also Tuesday, state officials reduced operating times at state-run mass virus testing sites including in Arlington Heights, Aurora and Waukegan to 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The change reflects a drop in people using those test sites and a desire to provide mobile units in high-risk areas.

• Daily Herald staff writers Russell Lissau and Christopher Placek contributed to this report.

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