September 28, 2020

Officials warn of potential for coronavirus spread as Illinois heads into next phase of reopening

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CHICAGO — All regions of Illinois remain on track for moving on to Phase 4 of reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic tomorrow, state officials said Thursday.

“Starting tomorrow, hundreds of more Illinoisians will return to work,” Governor JB Pritzker said.

Pritzker drew a contrast between Illinois and parts of the country that have seen a spike in the number of new COVID-19 cases after lifting their stay-at-home orders.

The U.S. recorded a one-day total of 34,700 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Wednesday, the highest level since late April, when the number peaked at 36,400, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

As part of Phase 4 of the state’s “Restore Illinois” plan, health and fitness centers can reopen, restaurants and bars can offer indoor dining, movie theaters, museums and zoos can resume operations, and child care operations can either reopen or expand their operations starting Friday.

However, Pritzker said if any region falls out of those limits, he “would not hesitate” to move them back to the stricter guidelines of Phase 3.

“If we continue to follow the path that doctors recommend, we can continue our march forward toward more normalcy,” Pritzker said.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 894 new cases of COVID-19 and 41 coronavirus-related deaths were confirmed over the past day, bringing statewide totals to 139,434 cases and 6,810 deaths.

Pritzker said even as testing expands, the number of new cases of COVID-19 is down from its height seven weeks ago. Of those confirmed cases, the state estimates 94 percent have recovered.

“Illinois is being touted across the country of getting it right,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Thursday. “We have seen declining fatality totals week after week for the past five weeks.”

Pritzker released guidelines for K-12 schools, community colleges, and higher education institutions to resume in-person instruction for next fall on Tuesday.

While Chicago had been on a slower reopening pace than the rest of Illinois, health officials say the metrics for reopening have been met and the city will move on to Phase 4 as well on Friday.

Some aspects of Chicago’s reopening are stricter than the guidelines of the state’s “Restore Illinois” plan, due in part to the number of cases and greater density of the city.

The reopening does come with some concerns, after the state reported a slight uptick in the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate from 2 percent to 3 percent yesterday. As of Thursday, the positivity rate from June 18-24 remains at 3 percent.

Governments and businesses in some parts of the U.S. and around the world are ramping up precautions as coronavirus case numbers rise to dire new levels, potentially wiping out two months of progress.

Epidemiologist Dr. Gary Slutkin says any outside public activities are better than inside, but that he still wouldn’t get on a plane when it comes to travel.

On the economic front, the number of laid-off workers who applied for unemployment benefits in the U.S declined slightly to 1.48 million last week, the 12th straight drop and a sign that layoffs are slowing but are still at a painfully high level.