Chicago's move into Phase 5 Friday makes it the largest big U.S. city to fully reopen, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.
"Due to the incredible progress we've made in our mission to stop the spread of COVID-19, I am thrilled to announce that we are able to safely transition into Phase 5 and become the first major city in the country to fully reopen," Lightfoot said in a statement. "Our ongoing vaccination efforts, which prioritize equity and inclusion, have made a remarkable difference in our COVID-19 journey and have resulted in the lowest positivity rate since the beginning of the pandemic. This progress, as well as ongoing initiatives such as Open Chicago, have allowed us to safely lift capacity limits and reconnect our residents back to the activities they love the most."
Chicago joined Illinois in entering Phase 5 Friday, the final stage of the state's reopening plan and a full reopening. The phase removed all capacity limits from businesses and large-scale events, signaling that the state is ready to fully reopen for the first time in nearly 15 months.
Some restrictions still remain in place, however, including CDC mask guidelines for unvaccinated individuals and anyone on public transportation, in health care facilities, at correction facilities and other designated locations.
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The city continued to encourage residents to get vaccinated. Vaccines have so far been credited with bringing the city's metrics down far enough to allow for reopening.
“This historic day is a testament to the hard work of Chicagoans to follow COVID-19 safety protocols and the power of vaccines,” CDPH Commissioner Dr. Alison Arwady, M.D. “While our case rates are the lowest since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has not gone away completely, and overwhelmingly, those who are being diagnosed are those who are unvaccinated. Chicagoans who are not yet vaccinated should get a vaccine as soon as possible – it is the best way to protect yourself, your family, and your community.”
While some residents have expressed concerns that rollbacks of coronavirus restrictions could lead to surges in virus cases, Arwady said she is “very confident” that case numbers are low enough in the state to prevent a large surge from happening in the early stages of summer.
Arwady spoke out about the possibility of a surge Thursday, just one day ahead of the state’s move into Phase 5 of its reopening plan.
“All the modeling looks very good when we look in the short term over the next few weeks,” she said. “So I’m not concerned in the short term about a major spike in COVID.”
Arwady pointed to increases in the number of vaccinated individuals as a key component in the decision to move forward. According to Illinois Department of Public Health data, more than 51% of the state’s adult residents are now fully vaccinated against COVID, with more than 68% having received at least one COVID vaccine dose.
“Before there was a vaccine, we were often having to make these decisions about turning the dial and sort of opening and how many people can be in spaces, and what that protection is because we knew there was an amount of COVID and a widely susceptible population,” she said. “(Now), there is much more protection broadly, and our numbers are so much lower at this point so that there are many fewer chains of transmission, and so we’re able to do that sort of contact tracing.”
Arwady cited countries like Israel as a model for how things are proceeding in Illinois. In that country, one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, widespread outbreaks have not occurred since reopening due to the virus having fewer hosts to infect, Arwady said.
“Where we are seeing some surges around the world, they tend to be in settings where the vaccine is really not widely available,” she said.
The commissioner did say that there could be an increase in COVID cases later this year, as more people participate in indoor activities.
“I think there could be a seasonal component to this (long term),” Arwady said. “In the same we think about the flu season, that could be how COVID comes back. If it does, it could land on vaccinated communities and unvaccinated social networks, but only time will tell.”
Hospitalizations and positivity rates in Illinois are at their lowest levels of the pandemic, with fewer than 800 people currently hospitalized because of the virus. The state’s positivity rate on COVID tests is at 1.3%, the lowest it has been measured during the pandemic.
State officials say that COVID restrictions could be restored if metrics begin to rise again. All restrictions will be dropped on Friday, with mask mandates remaining in place where required by federal and state law, according to officials.