What We Know Now About The Illinois Plan For Reopening

Gov. JB Pritzker crafted a five-step reopening plan for Illinois’ economy. This is what we know about that plan so far.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker speaks during a news conference Thursday, March 19, 2020
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker speaks during a news conference Thursday, March 19, 2020. He this week released a five-phase plan to reopen the state. Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker speaks during a news conference Thursday, March 19, 2020
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker speaks during a news conference Thursday, March 19, 2020. He this week released a five-phase plan to reopen the state. Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press

What We Know Now About The Illinois Plan For Reopening

Gov. JB Pritzker crafted a five-step reopening plan for Illinois’ economy. This is what we know about that plan so far.

Gov. JB Pritzker on Tuesday revealed a five-step reopening plan for Illinois’ economy that’s based on how well regions of the state are doing at keeping down hospitalizations and cases of COVID-19.

The program, Pritzker said, is meant to help educators, businesses and workers understand what factors he’s using to make decisions about how to reopen the state. But it comes with a caveat: If hospitalizations increase after opening a region’s economy, Pritzker would go back to shutting down certain nonessential businesses there.

The governor touted his framework as a pathway to recovery. But Pritzker offered no firm timetable for getting back to the world Illinoisans knew pre-pandemic.

Here are the details:

Why is the governor taking this new approach to opening the state’s economy?

Pritzker says he wants to let science and data guide his decisions to ease social distancing and economic restrictions he imposed during the pandemic. So each phase of plan has to meet certain benchmarks tied to testing and hospital capacity, and the growth rate of COVID-19 cases.

“I know that we all have a passionate desire to return to the sense of normalcy that we felt before the world knew of COVID-19,” Pritzker said in revealing the program he’s dubbed Restore Illinois. “Here’s the truth, and I don’t like it any more than you do: Until we have a vaccine or an effective treatment or enough widespread immunity that new cases fail to materialize, the option of returning to normalcy doesn’t exist.”

So far, Pritzker has only enacted statewide stay-at-home orders that apply the same rules and restrictions to Chicago as to Cairo, Ill., and other parts of the state. The latest iteration of his order did allow for state parks and some businesses to reopen. But restaurants, theaters and retail shops have been treated the same in both urban and rural parts of Illinois, regardless of the virus’ reach in a specific region.

What are the regions?

Pritzker’s plan divides the state into four geographic sections, based on emergency medical regions that have been used by the Illinois Department of Public Health for decades.

Cook and the collar counties — including Grundy and Kankakee counties — are in one region. The rest of the state is divided into three other regions.

The regions can begin to reopen independently of one another. This means that in-class education could resume in the fall in southern Illinois, but e-learning could continue in Chicago and the suburbs. Pritzker repeatedly declined to estimate Tuesday when certain parts of the state might begin to reopen.

What are the phases?

Phase 1: This was where the state was when the stay-at-home order first went into effect. In-class learning stopped for schools. Only essential businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, could remain open. Residents were ordered to remain in their homes unless they had to leave to get food, fuel or medical care.

Phase 2: Illinois is currently in this phase, according to Pritzker. The restrictions are slightly less stringent they in Phase 1, with the opening of golf courses, certain state parks and a mandate that anyone entering a store must wear a face covering.

Phase 3: Gatherings will continue to be limited to no more than 10 people. However, barbershops, salons and offices can reopen so long as they observe social distancing.

Phase 4: People can again gather in groups up to 50. Schools can reopen to in-class learning. Restaurants, bars and childcare can reopen. Face coverings are still mandated.

Phase 5: The economy fully reopens, likely because of a vaccine or widespread immunity, according to the governor’s plan.

How does a region move to the next phase?

Each region must meet specific metrics that are established to move from one phase to the next. For example, to move from Phase 2 to Phase 3, a region must have no overall increase in COVID-related hospitalizations for 28 days, hospitals must have at least 14% of their ICU beds and ventilators available for use and no more than 20% of those tested for COVID-19 in the region can test positive.

Pritzker warned that if a region advances to a new phase, but hospitalizations begin to increase as a result, he would not hesitate to move that region back a phase to more restrictive orders.

What’s been the reaction to the five-step plan?

A few hundred protesters in Chicago and Springfield — including some displaying Nazi propaganda — rallied to protest Pritzker’s stay-at-home orders. But the governor said his plan is in response to public health and epidemiological guidance and not protests.

Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, praised the Democratic governor’s approach “as a forward-looking plan that people across Illinois have been expecting.”

His GOP counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, offered no sharp criticism to Pritzker’s proposal. But Brady questioned why advancements from one phase to another require 28 days under the governor’s plan instead of 14 days, as New York state and federal public health officials have endorsed.

Where is the Chicago area at now?

Pritzker has declined to predict whether his existing stay-at-home order, which extends to May 30, might be extended into June. But he said people can follow the same data that his administration is using to judge progress by going to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 website.

Last Friday, the start of the month, there were 229 hospital admissions for patients with COVID-19 symptoms in Chicago’s region. During the first four days of May, the percentage of COVID-19 positive test results has hovered around 20% in the region. And the number of available intensive care unit beds stood at 541. There are 1,534 available ventilators in the region.

Tony Arnold and Dave McKinney cover Illinois state politics and government for WBEZ. Follow them on Twitter @tonyjarnold and @davemckinney.

This story was updated to clarify the correct percentage of positive tests that are allowed for a region to move forward in a phase.