COVID vaccine

Gov. Pritzker Says Details on Phased Reopening Plan Coming in ‘Next Few Days'

In a state Senate health committee meeting Monday, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said a new reopening plan could be announced "later this week."

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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker expects new details about the phased reopening plan to be discussed "over the next few days," he said Wednesday.

The governor, speaking at a press conference about vaccine equity in Illinois, said he expects to be talking about updates to the state's reopening plan this week.

"Let me just say, you know, we're working with industry leaders, working with our doctors at IDPH as well as other experts in the state to make sure that the phased opening reopening is not only healthy for everybody, but also good for the economy, as we're moving forward," Pritzker said.

The governor's comments come after reports indicated an announcement on the state's reopening plan was imminent.

Currently, Illinois is under Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan the governor announced early in the pandemic last year. Next up would be Phase 5, which marks a full reopening, but requires a widely available vaccine or highly effective treatment for coronavirus.

But in a state Senate health committee meeting Monday, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said a new reopening plan could be announced "later this week."

According to the Chicago Tribune, Ezike said "there may be one more phase" between Phase 4 and Phase 5. Few details have been revealed, but one thing is certain: masks will continue to be mandated in the state, she said, adding that "masks have to continue to be a mainstay.”

Earlier this month, Texas became the biggest state to lift its mask rule, joining a rapidly growing movement by governors and other leaders across the U.S. to loosen COVID-19 restrictions despite pleas from health officials not to let their guard down yet.

A spokesperson for the governor confirmed Pritzker has been in "discussions with industry and health experts."

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner said Pritzker's phased reopening update will be centered on "what will this summer look like" and "when are we able to do some more broader reopening," noting that the city has already made similar announcements, including allowing 20% capacity at Wrigley and Guaranteed Rate fields this baseball season.

"We've been doing some careful planning for this summer, assuming that our numbers continue to be stable or decline and that we continue to see really good uptake in vaccine," Arwady said during a Facebook Live Tuesday. "I fully expect that this summer is going to look, you know, more like two summers ago than last summer."

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said last week the city could see a summer more like "what we normally experience" and the governor's office noted that McCormick Place could also be bringing back some events.

"We know so much more about the virus, how it spreads that we did a year ago," Lightfoot said. "We know, in particular, about outside events -- that we can manage these in a safe way that's consistent with the public health guidance. So, as I said, I think the summer of 2021 looks more like what we normally experienced."

Arwady added the governor's announcement will likely be less about vaccinations and more about reopening.

"The Phase Five reopening plan is more about what are we doing," Arwady said. "It's not about the phase of vaccination. It's about where are we in terms of having a high percentage of the population vaccinated, where are we in terms of our case numbers our hospitalization numbers."

With vaccinations for coronavirus in Illinois increasing, and eligibility expanding, a full reopening is inching closer, but Pritzker has repeatedly said the state is not there yet.

"You know, I've said from early on that what we need is an effective vaccine that we can widely distribute and a very effective or a very effective treatment that we could widely distribute and we're getting there," Pritzker said earlier this month. "I mean... about one in seven Illinoisans already has their first dose in their arms. We need to get closer to herd immunity for everybody to feel, you know, that we're beyond phase four and for us to actually be able to reopen everything entirely."

Herd immunity is defined by the World Health Organization as "when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection," though the group notes that for coronavirus such immunity "should be achieved by protecting people through vaccination, not by exposing them to the pathogen that causes the disease."

The exact amount of herd immunity necessary to reopen further remains unclear, particularly as concerns rise over variants of the virus emerging in the U.S. and around the world and whether the current vaccines will continue to offer protection.

"We are still learning about immunity to COVID-19," WHO reports. "Most people who are infected with COVID-19 develop an immune response within the first few weeks, but we don’t know how strong or lasting that immune response is, or how it differs for different people. There have also been reports of people infected with COVID-19 for a second time. Until we better understand COVID-19 immunity, it will not be possible to know how much of a population is immune and how long that immunity last for, let alone make future predictions."

Illinois earlier this year lifted its tiered mitigation plan, bringing all of its regions back to Phase 4 guidelines as cases and hospitalizations continue to steadily decline in the state. The move to Phase 4 brought back indoor dining and reopened several businesses, while expanding capacity limits in others.

The first coronavirus vaccinations were administered in Illinois in December as health care workers and long-term care facility residents and staff began receiving doses.

Since then, the state entered its next phase of vaccine rollout, called Phase 1B, opening up vaccines to frontline essential workers and residents age 65 and older. That group expanded to include people age 16 and older with certain high-risk medical conditions and comorbidities. Chicago, along with several suburbs and health care systems, opted to not enter the expanded phase, citing limitations with supply.

On Monday, Pritzker said Illinois plans to exceed President Joe Biden's promise to make all adults eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by May 1.

"I just think that people should start to think very much about...the fact that we're going to open this up to everybody relatively sooner than I think people expected," Pritzker said during a one-on-one interview with NBC 5's Mary Ann Ahern.

In all, Illinois has received 5,038,635 doses of the vaccine, and a total 4,102,810 have been administered in the state.

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