Is Illinois Getting Closer to Pre-Pandemic Norms?

It’s a question with no easy answer: When will Illinois get back to normal?

But a year into a battle against a virus that has killed 20,988 Illinoisans, forced schools to close their doors, and intermittently shuttered restaurants and bars while keeping hundreds of thousands out of work, life may be getting closer to pre-pandemic norms.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to announce fresh guidance Thursday that will ease some current restrictions.

At an appearance in Decatur on Wednesday, the Democratic governor said he has had talks with leaders from a variety of sectors.

“We got together with leaders of various industries in Illinois to make sure that we’re covering all of the stakeholders that would be interested from a business perspective,” he said. “And then of course we brought our doctors from IDPH (the Illinois Department of Public Health) and others into meetings to try to figure out how do we ‘phase in’ as things get better in the state.”

Pritzker, to the chagrin of critics who accuse him of overextending his authority, has used his executive powers to set metrics, based on COVID-19 hospital and case rates in a region of the state, that determine how many people can gather in a setting, whether gyms can hold group fitness classes and how many people can dine inside a restaurant.

Since late June, all of Illinois has been in what the state has termed “Phase 4” of the administration’s Restore Illinois reopening plan

The plan calls for Illinois to move into Phase 5, in which “All sectors of the economy reopen with businesses, schools, and recreation resuming normal operations with new safety guidance and procedures” and “conventions, festivals, and large events can take place” once “either a vaccine is developed to prevent additional spread of COVID-19, a treatment option is readily available that ensures health care capacity is no longer a concern, or there are no new cases over a sustained period.”

So far, more than 4 million of Illinois’ 12.7 million residents have received at least an initial dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to state data.

It’s clear that Pritzker, who on Wednesday raised the concern of new variants of the virus that are more transmissible, is not prepared to move Illinois into Phase 5; rather, he’s poised to pitch a middle ground between the current “revitalization” period and back to normal.

Pritzker also hinted that Illinois residents who are so far not eligible for the vaccine may soon be able to get it – or at least be eligible to try.

President Joe Biden set a goal that all American adults be made eligible for the vaccine by May 1.

“We’re looking at following President Biden’s prescription for opening everything up for all comers who want the vaccine, and perhaps even earlier than that if we can do it,” Pritzker said. 

Chicago’s public health commissioner, Dr. Allison Arwady, at a separate event on Wednesday, appeared dubious the city will be able to reach that mark; the city is, however, expanding eligibility starting March 29, such that a majority of Chicagoans will become eligible. Come the end of the month, the city will enter its 1C phase, which covers a bevy of essential workers from restaurant servers and hairdressers to lawyers and the media, as well as individuals under age 65 with health conditions including heart problems, pregnancy and HIV.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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