Coronavirus Restrictions Lifted In Parts Of Illinois

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Jonah Meadows
·5 min read
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CHICAGO — Regional coronavirus restrictions can begin to be loosened for the first time since late November, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Friday. The governor also said Illinois will be ready to begin Phase 1b of the state's COVID-19 vaccination plan before the end of the month.

Ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, Pritzker imposed Tier 3 COVID-19 mitigation measures — the strictest since the stay-at-home order — across the entire state as hospitalizations and new infections exceeded their spring peak. But with one complete 14-day incubation period having passed since New Year's Eve, the governor said three regions were ready to move immediately from Tier 3 to Tier 2.

Regions 1, 2 and 5, in northwest, north central and southern Illinois, respectively, qualified for reduced restrictions after meeting metrics established by the state: a positivity rate below 12 percent, falling hospitalizations and sufficient available hospital beds. That allows for the return of indoor fitness classes, reopening of cultural institutions, gatherings of up to 10 people group, recreational activities with up to 25 people and lower-risk youth sports.

"Of our remaining regions, the data shows that most are on track to leave Tier 3 in the coming days if current trends hold," Pritzker said. "Each of these tiers serves as a way to ensure that we prevent or slow down any potential surge of infections in response to more things opening up."

Indoor dining remains restricted in Tier 2. But the governor announced Friday that Tier 1 has been modified to allow limited indoor service. Reservations will be required, and no indoor table may seat more than four people.

"The trajectory of the data in each region has given Dr. Ezike and IDPH some confidence that a careful and limited reopening of bars and restaurants in regions that have attained Tier 1 will not lead to a resurgence, so they have altered Tier 1 to allow indoor service in the hospitality industry."

If hospitalizations continue to fall, hospitals still have available beds and regional coronavirus positivity drops below 8 percent during the two weeks after a shift into Tier 2, a region can then move into Tier 1, with bars and restaurants that serve food allowed to have indoor operations at up to 25 percent capacity.

Pritzker said he has always tried to balance efforts to support the hospital system with support for economic recovery. He said the latest modifications to the tiered restrictions in his administration's Restore Illinois regional COVID-19 resurgence mitigation plan reflect that.

"As we ramp up vaccine distribution efforts across the state, we're able to adjust our mitigation efforts further while maintaining that balance," Pritzker said.


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Vaccine Efforts

Public health officials expect to complete the first phase, Phase 1a, of the state's COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan next week, according to the governor. He said state officials plan to move into Phase 1b, which includes people over age 65 and all front-line essential workers, on Jan. 25.

As of Friday, nearly a million doses of coronavirus vaccines had been shipped to Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health website. Of those, more than a quarter-million were set aside for the federal government's pharmacy partnership program, which had administered fewer than 57,000 of them to nursing home residents and staff at last update.

About 450,000 of the remaining nearly 727,000 doses have been administered, according to state public health officials.

Pritzker said more of the state's 97 local health departments would be offering mass vaccination clinics as supplies of vaccine increase, including a drive-thru site in Sangamon County, clinics at the basketball arena at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and six sites across the city of Chicago next week.

State public officials plan to begin operating their own mass vaccination sites, initially to complete vaccinations for health care workers who have not yet received a dose, the governor said.

"Starting this coming Tuesday, I've ordered the Illinois National Guard to activate our new flexible mobile teams to assist local health departments by expanding their existing vaccination clinics."

The first two are headed to sites in suburban Cook County, another is working with St. Clair County to set up a site in the Metro East region, and more are ready to start operating in the coming weeks.

Pharmacy-based vaccination clinics will also begin next week, Pritzker said, with a few Walgreens locations set to come online Monday for health care workers.

Starting Jan. 25, the National Guard sites, as well as some Walgreens, CVS and Jewel-Osco pharmacies, will begin vaccinating people 65 and older.

"Our pharmacy vaccinations will be by online appointment only, so please don't try to line up at the store or try to call your local pharmacy now," Pritzker said, warning that patience would be needed in the early weeks of Phase 1b.

Pritzker promised the state would launch the Illinois COVID-19 Vaccination Administration Plan website before Jan. 25, which he said will provide information about nearby vaccination sites and how to make an appointment.

"We hope to see the vaccine supply grow soon," he said. "But we don't control the production process."

This article originally appeared on the Across Illinois Patch