Illinois' 'Bridge Phase' of COVID-19 restrictions is coming. What will that mean?
More standing room at restaurants. Larger festivals and summer concerts in the park. And maybe, more kids at summer camp.
There are a lot of nuances and guidelines yet be determined as Illinois heads toward a "Bridge Phase" of reopening with fewer COVID-19 restrictions on May 14.
But reaction from businesses, park districts and other entities was positive Friday as industry experts helped decipher the state's rules that contain technicalities such as "15 people per 1,000 square feet," under current Phase 4 restrictions for spectator events, and "30 people per 1,000 square feet" in the Bridge Phase.
Boiled down, it means everyone who wants to attend Naperville's popular "Concerts in Your Park" series will get their wish, Naperville Park District Director of Recreation Brad Wilson explained.
The state is "essentially doubling the number of people who can attend festivals or general-admission outdoor spectator events," Wilson said.
This year, the park district slated concerts at some of the city's larger parks. "We do not anticipate we'll need to turn anyone away," he said.
The shift also will increase capacity for indoor and outdoor recreation, permitting groups of 100 outside, Wilson noted.
But parents with kids on summer camp waiting lists will need to sit tight.
"The state is currently working with the Illinois Department of Public Health to update guidance to allow summer camps to safely operate this summer, Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said. "We hope to announce next Friday when the state enters the Bridge Phase."
The Bridge Phase will begin in a week providing the numbers of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations remain stable or decline. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said he's hoping to lift all capacity restrictions by June 11.
At restaurants, "right now, there's not a lot of change" in the Bridge Phase, said Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association. Indoor restaurant capacity under the Bridge Phase still is dictated by tables having to be placed 6 feet apart. But standing room areas, currently at 25% capacity, will extend to 30% indoors and 50% outdoors.
"This will help outdoor venues," Toia said, and allow for more private parties.
For outdoor festivals like Geneva's popular Swedish Days June 24-27, "if we go into the Bridge Phase, we will be able to apply to the city of Geneva for permits to hold additional events on public property," Geneva Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau Communications Manager Laura Rush said.
"However, we will still be very mindful of numbers allowed in certain spaces and continue to follow COVID-19 rules of safety," she said.
For entities like the Lake County Forest Preserve, the change means more people in the Dunn Museum and keeping the Libertyville spot open longer hours, Director of Education Nan Buckardt said.
In addition, "we will be introducing some in-person programming this summer," with registration and COVID-19 protocols.
For movie theaters, it's great news for sites with reclining seats, especially for those that hold fewer than 200 people, explained Classic Cinemas CEO Chris Johnson. Smaller Classic Cinemas theaters with reclining seats that are 6 feet apart, like locations in Elmhurst and St. Charles, can jump from 25% to 60% capacity.
But the iconic Tivoli Theater in Downers Grove with traditional, closer rows of seats will remain at the same audience level, until Illinois revises its social distancing rules from 6 feet to 3 feet to resemble "the World Health Organization and basically the rest of the world," Johnson said.
The social distancing guidelines will also prevent any significant changes at venues like Arlington Park.
"Until the 6-foot requirement is relieved, we will not able to increase capacity here," Arlington Park President Tony Petrillo said.
Meanwhile, the Bridge Phase shouldn't mean huge changes for school districts.
"The Bridge Phase Plan does not directly address schools, but we hope to receive updated guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health that mirrors the reopening of the other sectors," Batavia Public School District 101 spokeswoman Holly Deitchman said.