State begins Phase 4 of recovery from COVID-19 pandemic

This Illinois Department of Public Health graphic outlines the phases and guidelines as set forth under the state's five-phase reopening plan.

Illinois on Friday, June 26, entered Phase 4 of the state's Restore Illinois reopening plan.

In this phase, restaurants and bars may open for indoor dining at fractional capacity as long as they follow state guidelines, and gatherings up to 50 people are allowed. Pre-kindergarten through 12 schools, higher education and all summer programs may also open with IDPH approved safety guidance, as could fitness clubs.

The state released new guidance for reopening businesses Monday, June 22.  

Restaurants must arrange their seating facilities so that tables are six feet apart, and parties larger than 10 people will not be allowed, per state guidelines. Standing areas such as bars will be allowed to operate at no more than 25 percent of capacity, and staff is required to wear face coverings when serving customers.

Additionally, gatherings of 50 people — up from 10 — will be allowed in Illinois, including at weddings and funerals; and fitness centers, movie theaters, museums and zoos will be allowed to reopen with capacity limits and health guidelines in place. Industry-specific guidelines from the state can be found at Illinois.gov/businessguidelines.

While each of the second, third and fourth phases of the plan lasted 30 days, there is no timetable for moving from Phase 4 to Phase 5, the final phase of the plan when the state’s economy fully reopens, including conventions, festivals and large events. Per the current plan, Phase 5 cannot begin without a coronavirus vaccine or “highly effective treatment” being widely available, or without new cases of the virus being eliminated for a sustained period.

Also, during Phase 4, venues may host up to 50 people or 50 percent of their overall room capacity — whichever number is less. Multiple groups are permitted at certain facilities as long as there is space to social distance and limit interaction between groups.

Bowling alleys, skating rinks and clubhouses are on the list of allowable indoor and outdoor recreation under Phase 4, provided they also operate at the lesser of 50 customers or half capacity. Groups of 50 are allowed for outdoor recreation, and multiple groups can gather if they can remain separated.

Museums and zoos can reopen at 25 percent capacity or less, but interactive exhibits and rides must be closed. Guided tours are allowed but must be limited to 50 people or fewer per group. Indoor exhibits at zoos will remain closed as well.

Indoor-seated theaters and performing arts centers are allowed to open with 50 guests maximum or 50 percent capacity, whichever is less, in each of the theater’s screening rooms or performance spaces. Outdoor capacity is limited to 20 percent of overall theater or performance space capacity.

Gov. JB Pritzker announced a new tool to track county-by-county progress in the fight against the novel coronavirus Thursday, June 25, but as the state readied to enter the next phase of reopening, he also warned that he would not hesitate to move certain regions backward if progress subsides.

“Obviously, every day I watch the numbers and I think, you know, are we going in the right direction? And I'm rooting for it to go the right direction and we're making policies that we hope will move it in the right direction,” Pritzker said when asked about the bump in new cases at a Chicago news conference Thursday. “We're watching. I would wait to make a judgment about whether there's some direction here that it's going, but right now I would call it stable.”

Pritzker said the stability has helped move the state toward Phase 4 of reopening Friday, but Illinoisans will need to continue to wash their hands, remain six feet apart from others in public and wear face coverings if they want to keep the numbers low.

If COVID-19 numbers do increase, a reversion to previous phases is possible, however.

“I'm not afraid to protect the people of Illinois by moving a region back to an earlier phase if we see a surge,” he said. “Ours will not be one of the states that takes no action in response to a return to the peak.”

Pritzker announced the state launched 12 mobile community testing teams that will move throughout the state to “mitigate and suppress emerging outbreaks, including places like meatpacking plants, nursing homes, or other traceable gatherings.”

The state has also increased its number of contact tracers by 20 percent since June 1 and has more than 550 active tracers, the governor said. Another 250 tracers will join them “in the coming weeks,” he added.

Illinois released new guidelines for schools, colleges and universities to return to in-person learning in the fall, but leaders warned those plans could change if health metrics related to the COVID-19 pandemic stop improving.

“This fall will not be business as usual, and we will update our guidance as needed,” State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said during a news conference Tuesday, June 23, in Chicago. “In response to challenging and changing public health conditions, schools and districts must be prepared to return to remote learning if the virus surges again.”

Students and teachers will be required to wear face coverings if they are medically able, gatherings in one place will be limited to no more than 50 people and schools must adhere to stricter cleaning and disinfecting guidelines, as well as conduct regular symptom checks.

Gov. JB Pritzker said at the news conference every district must develop its own plan based on those guidelines. Ayala added districts and individual schools will soon send additional information to parents and students.

Pritzker said the Illinois Emergency Management Agency will provide public K-12 districts in Illinois with 2.5 million cloth face masks, allowing schools to provide one to all students and staff.

Universities and community colleges will have similar guidelines for a fall reopening, including social distancing and physical spacing requirements, hand sanitizing stations, face covering requirements and symptom monitoring. Schools are also developing policies around traffic flow, cleaning of public spaces and staggered schedules for the use of laboratories, auditoriums and other group facilities, according to guidelines.

At this time, the governor’s office said, colleges expect dormitories, cafeterias, libraries, bookstores and other amenities to be available to students provided they meet approved guidelines.

If someone in a school tests positive, those who were in close contact with them — that is, within six feet for 15 to 30 minutes without a face covering, according to Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health — would be expected to quarantine for 14 days.

Pritzker said local and county health departments will play a major role in deciding a path forward when such a positive test occurs.