Gov. J.B. Pritzker has announced the state’s framework for reopening which could see dine-in restaurants and bars — closed since mid-March — open in some areas by late June.
The plan, called Restore Illinois, is not based on a set schedule, but is a benchmark-based approach to reopening the state. In it, Illinois is divided into four regions — Chicago, along with the rest of Cook County, is in the Northeast Region. The Illinois Department of Public Health will examine infection rates and other statistics for each region to determine if it can progress to the next phase in the road to normalcy. Residents can track progress by looking at the stats kept on the IDPH’s website.
Phase One began when Pritzker enacted his first stay-at-home order in mid-March. Phase Two started on May 1, coinciding with Pritzker’s second extension of the stay-at-home order, which also allowed stores to operate with curbside pickup. Phase Three could begin on May 29, but Pritzker has warned if more people get sick, regions could be downgraded to the prior, more restrictive phase. “Moving backward is, honestly, the last thing that anyone wants to do,” Pritzker said. “But if the virus begins to attack more people and health care systems are headed to becoming overwhelmed in any one region, swift action will need to be taken.”
For bar and restaurant owners, Phase Four is perhaps the most pertinent. Under the current guidelines, June 26 is the earliest that it can begin. With proper guidance from the IDPH — which could involve social distancing, masks, and reduced seating capacities — restaurants would be able to reopen dining rooms, and bars could serve customers. Additionally, schools could reopen and non-essential gatherings of up to 50 people would be allowed. Most restaurants in neighboring Indiana have been eligible to reopen with reduced capacities since Monday; others can open later in May. Meanwhile, states like Georgia and Texas are providing examples of what to expect.
As Phase Two (flattening) began on May 1, the earliest a region could be upgrade to Phase Three (recovery) is May 29, followed by June 26 for Phase Four (revitalization), Pritzker said. There are three time-related reasons for that. A region must see, at most, a “20 percent test positivity rate and increasing by no more than 10 percentage points over a 14-day period.” The second requirement is that the region must have maintained stability in hospital admissions from COVID-19-related symptoms over the prior 28 days. The third is a region needs to keep “the availability of a surge threshold of 14 percent availability of ICU beds, medical and surgery beds, and ventilators.” If a region fails to hit a threshold, the 14- and 28-day periods are reset.
Don’t expect all restaurants to immediately reopen on whichever date the state deems safe, however. Several restaurant owners have told Eater Chicago that it will take time to rehire staff and ensure they practicing needed safety precautions before they feel comfortable opening.
Pritzker also admitted that the state won’t be considered fully recovered until scientists develop a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment. Until then, conventions, music festivals, and other mass gatherings won’t be allowed. Those events could happen again in the plan’s final state, Phase Five: Illinois Restored.