By GREG BISHOP
The Center Square
SPRINGFIELD – Another change to Gov. J.B. Pritzker's COVID-19 reopening plan is expected this week, but it won’t be the full reopening initially laid out in May 2020.
A year ago, Gov. J.B. Pritzker started ordering limits on gathering sizes to smaller and smaller numbers he said was an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Twelve months later, many restrictions remain in place to reduce the spread of the virus. The state is in Phase 4 of the governor's plan, with a 50-person on the size of gatherings. Phase 5 would be full reopening.
During a Senate Health Committee hearing March 15, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said she thinks the state is “getting close” to reopening more, but not all the way.
“I think from where we are now to Phase 5 maybe not just an on/off switch, but maybe a dial,” Ezike said. “So there may be one more phase before we get to Phase 5. I think the governor is going to release a plan that we have been working on later this week.”
A lot of the benchmarks she said will rely on the vaccination rates of the most vulnerable population, the state’s seniors.
“So, once we see like a greater majority of our seniors vaccinated, that should get us to another level and then we can start having at least larger-sized gatherings like everything open up with some kind of capacity,” Ezike said. “We’re not getting rid of masks. We think masks have to be a mainstay.”
For a full Phase 5 reopening, she said that will depend on how much of the general population has been vaccinated while health officials monitor COVID-19-related deaths and hospitalizations.
As of Monday, nearly 12 percent of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated. More than 680,800 people 65 and older have been fully vaccinated, according to state data.
The state’s hospitality and leisure industry, which has reported major job losses over the last year, has been pressuring the governor to allow for larger gatherings for conventions as other states see more relaxed gathering limits.
Illinois logged the lowest number of COVID-19 positive cases in months Monday. The 24-hour report showed 782 “confirmed and probable” cases, the lowest since 707 cases were reported in one day on July 14, 2020. The state reported 12 COVID-19-related deaths in the latest daily report Monday.