Chicago will reopen gradually once the number of confirmed coronavirus cases begins to decline and hospitalizations drop, according to a plan released by Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday.
Lightfoot’s plan aligns with the five-phase Restore Illinois plan released by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday and the mayor said in a statement that the plan was based on data, science and guidance from public health experts and stakeholders. It does not include specific dates for businesses or public spaces, like the lakefront, to reopen.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is absolutely there, but it’s still just a glimmer, and we still have a long way to go before we can safely return to the way things were before,” Lightfoot said.
Approximately 28,600 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported in Chicago, and more than 1,200 Chicagoans have died from the disease, according to the latest data from the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Chicago is now in the second phase of the city’s plan, which requires residents to stay at home in an effort to continue flattening the curve. The next phase will allow the city to “cautiously reopen,” with nonessential businesses reopening with protections for shoppers and employees in place, according to the plan.
Chicagoans will be limited to gatherings of no more than 10 people, must remain 6 feet away from others and wear face coverings, according to the plan.
Chicago officials will use four metrics to determine when the city can move from one phase to the next:
— Is the rate of the spread of the virus decreasing in Cook County and surrounding counties?
— Can the city conduct enough tests and trace the contacts of those who have the virus to limit its spread?
— Can the city protect vulnerable residents?
— Can the health care system handle a surge of patients?
“What I want is for our city to come out of this crisis stronger and more resilient than we’ve ever been,” Lightfoot said. “I want our recovery to stand as a model for other cities around the world. I want nothing less than for our efforts over the coming months to truly warrant a fifth star on our flag.”
The city will transition from phase two to phase three once the rate of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations begin to decrease. Approximately 3,000 Chicagoans are tested each day, but that needs to increase to approximately 4,500 Chicagoans, said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
In order to ensure there is adequate hospital capacity to handle a possible surge, city officials said there should be fewer than 1,800 Chicagoans hospitalized with the coronavirus and fewer than 600 people in intensive care and fewer than 450 coronavirus patients on ventilators, according to the plan.
There were 480 patients with the coronavirus on ventilators as of Friday morning, said Arwady.
In addition, city officials need to have the capacity to test 5% of the city’s population, with a positivity rate of less than 15% over 14 days outside of communal housing, like nursing homes and jails, before moving to the next phase, according to the plan. The positivity rate could be 30% for those congregate settings, according to the plan.
Chicago added 999 new, confirmed cases of the coronavirus between Thursday and Friday, a 26% positivity rate, according to city data.
The governor has called for statewide positivity rates at or below 20% and an increase in the positivity rate of no more than 10 percentage points during a 14-day period before restrictions can be lifted.
While Lightfoot’s plan focuses on changes within a 14-day period — which is the time it can take for someone with the virus to show symptoms — Pritzker’s plan calls for no overall increase in hospital admissions for 28 days before moving from one phase to the next.
But the mayor dismissed concerns that the city’s plan contradicts the state’s plan. State law prohibits the city from opening up sooner than the governor allows.
“We’re both, as are all leaders across the state and the country, trying to make sure that we’re guided by the science and the data and really letting that dictate how and when we move,” Lightfoot said.
Pritzker praised Chicago’s plan shortly after Lightfoot unveiled it, but said the requirements he set could allow the state to reopen faster than those outlined by the mayor.
“It will fit, I think nicely, with the framework we put forward,” Pritzker said.
Federal officials have called for opening up a state or region after seeing a downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period.
There also must be an expanded system in place to investigate and trace new infections, according to Lightfoot's plan.
The plan released Friday did not include specific benchmarks to move from phase three to phase four, dubbed “gradually resume,” and phase five, which is dubbed “protect.”
Only when there’s a vaccine or treatment for the coronavirus will the state reach the final stage, according to the governor’s plan.
The governor’s plan has drawn pushback from restaurant owners, whose establishments have been limited to take out and drive-thru since mid-March. The soonest Illinois could reach phase four would be June 26, and by then many eateries may have closed for good.
The earliest any region of Illinois could move into phase three of the plan is May 29, according to Pritzker’s plan. In that phase, manufacturing, offices, barbershops and salons can reopen with capacity limits and other safety precautions, according to the plan.