Illinois will enter the bridge phase – the last step before a full reopening out of the COVID-19 pandemic, on May 14, Gov. JB Pritzker announced Thursday afternoon.
“The light that we can see at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter as more people get vaccinated,” Pritzker said.
In the bridge phase, restaurants can increase indoor capacity to 30% and outdoor dining capacity to 50%, and health and fitness centers, offices, personal care businesses, museums, spectator events, theaters and performing arts, and zoos can increase to 60% capacity.
Meetings, conferences and convention centers can increase capacity limits to 1,000 people or 60% capacity, whichever is less.
The bridge phase will last 28 days, which is two coronavirus incubation cycles to allow for monitoring, Pritzker said. If there is not a sustained increase in hospitalizations, hospital admissions for COVID-19-like illness, new cases or deaths over that 28-day period, the state will advance to Phase 5.
With Thursday’s announcement, the target for Phase 5, a full reopening of the state with no capacity limits on businesses, would be June 11.
“This good news comes with a caveat: We have all seen throughout this pandemic that this virus and its variants have proven to be unpredictable,” Pritzker said. “Metrics that look strong today are far from a guarantee of how things will look a week, two weeks, a month from now.”
Face masks will be required even in Phase 5, as long as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends them, Pritzker said, adding that if the CDC were to loosen guidance for mask requirements, the state would look to do the same.
Pritzker also announced that Illinois is expanding vaccine availability to physicians offices, allowing them to become COVID-19 vaccine providers. The governor’s office said 1,054 doctors offices already have registered to administer the vaccine on-site. To begin providing the vaccine, doctors must register with Illinois Comprehensive Automated Immunization Registry Exchange, better known as I-CARE, to coordinate the ordering of doses.
“This is about making it as easy as possible for those who have not yet gotten vaccinated to protect themselves from COVID-19,” Pritzker said. “For some people, that’s a matter of comfort. They’d rather get a vaccine from a doctor they know and trust.”
Pediatrician offices also can sign up in preparation for kids younger than 16 being approved for COVID-19 vaccines, which could happen as early as next week for kids ages 12 to 15 for the Pfizer vaccine, IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said.
“We will not waste any opportunity to get someone vaccinated because we know this vaccine is a lifesaver,” Ezike said.
Mass vaccination sites will remain open, Pritzker said, adding that the state may adjust the number of Illinois National Guard members working the sites to mobile vaccination efforts if mass vaccination site demand drops.
Pritzker originally announced the bridge phase March 18, but the state had to pause it two weeks later after a sustained increase in hospitalizations and new COVID-19 cases.
Since then, the state has seen a decline in new cases and hospitalizations have stabilized.
“Vaccination is how we can get back to summer camps, swimming lessons and youth sports, but it is not something the Illinois Department of Public Health can do on its own. We need everyone’s help. If you’ve been vaccinated, talk with your friends and co-workers about getting vaccinated,” Ezike said. “Research shows that health care providers, as well as friends and family, are who most people look to when deciding to get vaccinated. Wear your mask, avoid large crowds and get your shot.”