Illinois will move into phase four of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan on Friday – the earliest date allowed.
The new guidelines allow for gatherings of up to 50 people, the reopening of health and fitness centers, museums and movie theaters, and the return of indoor dining, among other things.
Officials on Thursday praised residents for their efforts in battling the coronavirus, which led to the state’s ability to move forward.
“You did it! Illinois is being touted across the country for getting it right,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.
Officials say that because residents have been following public health guidance, such as wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing and washing their hands, coronavirus cases and deaths across the state are declining.
Coronavirus-related deaths are down 60% from their peak six weeks ago, and the number of new cases is down 76% from seven weeks ago, according to Pritzker.
But “any pride in our success has to be tempered by grief,” said Pritzker, who revealed the personal loss of a mentor, Hecky Powell, among the more than 6,800 Illinoisans who have so far died from COVID-19.
On Thursday, officials announced 894 new COVID-19 cases and 41 deaths in Illinois, bringing statewide totals to 139,434 cases and 6,810 deaths. The state also hit a record high number of tests completed in a 24-hour period: 31,686.
While lauding the state’s success, officials also urged caution. “I feel a solemn obligation to emphasize that we expect the journey ahead to be more difficult,” Pritzker said.
More parts of the economy opening up means there are more opportunities for the virus to spread. “As we take our next steps forward and safely reopen, we have to continue to look out for one another,” he said.
Ezike echoed that sentiment. “The virus hasn’t been eradicated. It persists,” she said.
Without a vaccine or a widely available effective treatment, the best defenses against the virus are simple, Ezike said: wear a mask, practice social distancing and wash your hands.
She said people who don’t wear masks “will still affect everyone in this state.”
“I can’t ignore those voicing opposition to face coverings,” she said. “I’m likening the refusal to wear face coverings to a game of Russian roulette as we don’t know who’s infected, we don’t know if we’re infected, we’re just taking a chance. This game … is very risky. The stakes are high. It’s potentially fatal. Let’s not gamble with coronavirus.”
Wearing masks is not a political statement unless there is a political message on them, said Dr. Emily Landon, executive medical director for infection prevention and control at the University of Chicago.
“It’s essential we wear these masks in public buildings and places,” said Landon, who believes people will get used to wearing them.
If the state begins to see increasing cases, deaths or hospitalizations linked to COVID-19, Pritzker says he won’t hesitate to reimpose restrictions. “I’m not afraid to move us backward to things we’ve done in the past,” he said.
With Black and Brown communities hit disproportionately hard by the coronavirus, Carlos Nelson of the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation urged community leaders to set an example.
“I implore every father, every brother, every church member, every business owner to take this next phase seriously regardless of age, profession or hobby,” Nelson said. “We must do our part to maintain a level of awareness that the coronavirus is still real without a vaccine. … Let’s be responsible citizens. Our children, our families, our schools and our communities are counting on us to keep them safe.”
Coronavirus Prevention Tips and Resources
Officials advise taking preventive measures to slow the spread of the virus, including:
—Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
—Using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
—Sneezing or coughing into a tissue and then disposing of the tissue
—Limiting contact with people regardless of how you feel
—Staying home when you are sick
Symptoms of COVID-19 include, but are not limited to:
—New onset of fever, cough, shortness of breath
—Congestion in the nasal sinuses or lungs
—Sore throat, body aches or unusual fatigue
If you think you have COVID-19:
Call your doctor before showing up at their office. If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, tell the operator that you think you have COVID-19. If possible, wear a mask before medical help arrives or presenting at a doctor’s office. More advice for those who think they have COVID-19.
—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
—Illinois’ COVID-19 website
—Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) website
—IDPH COVID-19 hotline: 800-889-3931
—IDPH COVID-19 email link
—City of Chicago COVID-19 website
—City of Chicago COVID-19 hotline: 312-746-4835
—City of Chicago COVID-19 email link