Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday announced an end to his 10-week-old stay-at-home order, declaring that every region of the state has met conditions necessary to allow more social interaction amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
The state will move into the third phase of the Democrat's five-stage “Restore Illinois” plan, a step that will see reopening of manufacturing and retail, outdoor dining at restaurants and small social gatherings.
Restless residents have agitated for more freedom to leave their houses and resume some sense of normalcy. In loosening the restrictions, Pritzker cited more favorable conditions, including decreased hospitalizations and enough health care capacity to gear back up if the virus flares.
But with another 104 deaths from COVID-19 reported among 1,527 new cases, Pritzker urged caution. Discouraging virus transmission by covering noses and mouths and continuing social distancing will remain the norm.
“It’s important that we remain careful about continuing to wear face coverings, washing hands, maintain 6 feet of distance ...,” Pritzker said. “Let’s not move backward, but instead, let’s move forward together.”
Overall, 5,186 people have died of complications related to the coronavirus, with infections totaling 115,833, although many of those people have recovered.
Chicago is moving slightly behind the rest of the state. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the nation's third-largest city will begin loosening restrictions on many businesses next week.
Until those restrictions are lifted Wednesday, Chicago will remain in the second phase of Lightfoot’s plan for reopening, which requires people to stay home except for essential activities or work.
Pritzker has allowed local governments the choice of moving more cautiously toward “re-opening." Chicago's next phase will allow business to resume at child care facilities, most city parks, libraries, hotels and some office jobs.
Guidelines released this week set a 25% capacity limit on capacity in reopening offices and provided more specific advice for other industries. The city is also asking employers to stagger employees’ hours to avoid overcrowding on transit systems, and Lightfoot said she expects many employers will continue having people work from home for months.
As in the rest of the state, restaurants and coffee shops with outdoor space can resume service. Gyms can provide one-on-one personal training or small outdoor classes.
Barbers, nail and hair salons also can reopen with precautions, including keeping a log of customers in case public health officials need to warn them of exposure to a positive case.
Lightfoot said the city’s next steps are “fraught with risk” and officials are prepared to restore restrictions if a second surge of cases becomes clear.
“As we reopen, please understand that as we’re doing so with the full knowledge that we cannot totally eliminate risk,” Lightfoot said. “The best we can do and really the best you can do is to continue following the public health guidance.”
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older people and the infirm, it can cause severe symptoms and lead to death.
Pritzker also announced new rules for long-term facilities, many of which are privately run, which have been susceptible to breakouts of the virus due to their close quarters and vulnerable populations. The state is requiring the facilities to develop a COVID-19 testing plan and guidelines for how to conduct testing. They also face regulatory action by the Illinois Department of Public Health, including possible fines, if they violate infection-control rules.
Also Thursday, officials said the pandemic had reached the bench in Cook County for the first time.
In a news release, the office of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans announced that two judges in the courthouse in suburban Bridgeview tested positive for COVID-19. The release did not provide any details about the judges or their conditions.
In all, 39 court employees have tested positive in a county criminal justice system battered by the virus. At the county jail, hundreds of detainees and correctional officers have tested positive and seven detainees and two correctional officers have died.
At the Chicago Police Department, 521 sworn officers and 30 civilian employees have tested positive for the virus, and three officers who tested positive have died, according to the most recent department statistics.
Associated Press writer Don Babwin contributed. O'Connor reported from Springfield, Ill.