Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on May 5 announced a plan to reopen the Illinois economy in five phases based on regions of the state.


Gov. Pritzker explained the need for phased-in reopening of the state, called Restore Illinois, instead of a quick end to stay-at-home requirements and other recent steps taken to stop the spread of Coronavirus Disease in Illinois. He also offered criticism to those demanding a quick end to the economic shutdown or filing legal challenges to his executive orders on COVID-19.


“I spent decades in business, so I understand the urge to try and flip the switch and reopen our entire economy,” Pritzker said during a press conference on Tuesday, May 5. “Here’s the problem: that switch simply does not exist with a virus that can’t currently be eliminated by medical science. And I won’t open the door to overwhelming our hospital system and potentially tens of thousands of additional deaths by exposing everyone to the virus today just because a loud but tiny minority would like to indulge in that fantasy.”


Critics of the state’s response to coronavirus claim the shutdown has devastated businesses with many facing bankruptcy and left thousands jobless. Local government and business leaders have asked the Governor to consider ways of allowing some activities to start again that would not risk lives. Others have said the “one size fits all” approach has been unfair to counties with low infection rates. Pritzker acknowledged some of those requests before his comments on the Restore Illinois Plan.


“It’s important to remember that we put this plan together not only because the state needs a plan, but because mayors need a plan. Small business owners need a plan. Workers need a plan. Everyday Illinoisans need a plan,” he said.


The phases for Restore Illinois are 1) Rapid Spread, 2) Flattening, 3) Recovery, 4) Revitalization and 5) Illinois Restored. The state has been divided into 11 Restore Illinois Health Regions. Jasper County is part of Region 6, which also includes Cumberland, Effingham, Clay, Richland, Clark, Crawford, Clark, Lawrence, Fayette, Moultrie, Macon, DeWitt, Piatt, Champaign, Vermilion, Ford and Iroquois counties. There are five regions in the Chicago area, including the city of Chicago, the section of the state that has been hit hardest by COVID-19 both in cases and deaths.


The Governor explained Illinois has already experienced Phase I from early March to the end of April as restrictions were placed on the economy and travel to slow the spread of the virus and offer time to expand hospital capacity. “We’ve been through this phase once, and no one wants to go backward,” Gov. Pritzker said during a press conference announcing the reopening plan.


Phase 2 with the flattening of coronavirus infections started on May 1 with modifications to the statewide stay-at-home order allowing the opening of many state parks for hiking, fishing, boating and other activities where social distancing is possible. Retail businesses are now allowed to open with pick-up and delivery service options. The use of masks is now mandatory in spaces where social distancing is not possible in workplaces or businesses – many businesses are now requiring face masks or coverings for employees and even customers. Some businesses are even counting the number of customers entering to avoid crowds that could reduce the possibility of social distancing indoors.


What’s next under the plan is Phase 3 when healthcare regions meeting thresholds on recovery from COVID-19 can have non-essential businesses reopen with safety guidance and telework encouraged. Health and fitness clubs can offer outdoor classes and one-on-one personal training, based on Illinois Department of Public Health safety guidelines. Barber shops and hair salons can serve customers again. State parks will open again in qualifying regions in Phase 3. Childcare and summer programs can be offered with safety precautions. All public gatherings of 10 people or fewer can take place as well. Another part of this phase is the use of face coverings for protection from the virus.


“And I want to stress this point: Even as businesses reopen, employers should do everything in their power to provide remote accommodation for older and COVID-vulnerable employees,” Pritzker explained.


Reaching Phase 4 requires a region to see continued declines in its positivity test rate and hospitalizations and maintain surge capacity. That means restaurants, bars, spas, cinemas, theaters, retail and health fitness clubs could open again, but with new capacity limits and Department of Health safety guidelines. Schools, summer and fall programs, childcare facilities and colleges could open with safety guidance as well. All outdoor recreation programs will be allowed in this phase, too. Public gatherings in Phase 4 will be limited to 50 people although this requirement could be subject to change up or down, depending what science indicates at the time.


IDPH will watch the identified health metrics closely to determine when regions have attained them so each can move from Phase 2 to Phases 3 and 4. More specifically the metrics are:


1)A region must be at or under a 20 percent test positivity rate and increasing by no more than 10 percentage points over a 14-day period.


2) A region must have either not had an overall increase or must have maintained overall stability in hospital admissions for COVID-like illness in the last 28 days.


3)A region must maintain the availability of a surge threshold of 14 percent availability of ICU beds, medical and surgery beds, and ventilators.


Pritzker said because May 1 marked the beginning of Phase 2 in which the state loosened and modified a number of mitigations, that is the first day for the 14- and 28-day measurement periods to begin – meaning the earliest a region can move to Phase 3 is May 29. IDPH will be tracking each of the regions on these metrics and will make that data available online so the public can track it too.


Pritzker cautioned restoration efforts could move backward if health experts deemed it necessary at any point.


“Just as public health indicators will tell us when to move forward, at any time, they could also signal that we need to move backward. IDPH will be tracking metrics here as well. Moving backward is the last thing anyone wants to do, but if the virus begins to attack more people or the healthcare systems are heading toward becoming overwhelmed, swift action will need to be taken,” he explained.


Pritzker said the only way Illinois can cross into Phase 5 – Illinois Restored, with all sectors of the economy running with completely normal operations – is with a vaccine, or a widely available and highly effective treatment, or with the elimination of any new cases over a sustained period.


“It brings me no joy to say this, but based on what the experts tell us and everything we know about this virus and how easily it spreads in a crowd: large conventions, festivals, and other major events will be on hold until we reach Phase 5,” Pritzker said. “There is no modern-day precedent for this – we are quite literally writing the playbook as we go. The scientists learn more things about this virus every day, and we can and will make our Restore Illinois plan smarter as we move forward. I’m not afraid to redesign the playbook if the rules change.”


Enforcement of the Restore Illinois provisions is another matter that Pritzker addressed.


“At the state level, we don’t have the capacity or the desire to police the individual behavior of 12.7 million people. Enforcement comes in many forms, and our first and best option is to rely on Illinoisans working together to see each other through this pandemic. But we are also working with local law enforcement and have asked for their assistance to monitor for violations and consider taking actions when necessary, but that is not the option anyone prefers.”