Our View: Phase 5 brings Illinois more confidence

We have come so far and made much progress over the past 18 months of the pandemic

Illinois has now moved into Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois plan, meaning just about everything is open and if you’ve been vaccinated, you don’t have to wear a mask.

People are getting out and about, and it’s not just young people. We are now seeing a lot of older people at parks, farmers markets and shopping. That means we are feeling more secure, safe and confident about our health and surroundings. We are heading in the right direction.

But the concern isn’t over yet. More than half of Illinois residents remain unvaccinated (about 58%), giving the coronavirus plenty of opportunity to mutate – potentially even in a way that makes vaccines less effective.

And if you’re not vaccinated, let’s talk about why.

We all heard how difficult it was earlier in the year, but it’s not like that anymore. It’s much easier to get an appointment just about anywhere, from your doctor’s office to your pharmacy to your grocery. If you gave up in March, you should definitely try again now.

And if you are nervous because of potential side effects, there is less reason now. More than 100 million people have been vaccinated with only one minor concern that was quickly answered. If you still aren’t convinced, please talk to your doctor about it. Get the answers to the questions you have.

Homebound or other barriers? Health departments are rolling out at-home vaccinations and pop-up clinics aimed at vaccinating people where they are. Or contact your local COVID-19 call center to learn about options for your situation in your area. You can also check in with Illinois Department of Human Services’ 211 service, which streamlines resources for a variety of needs.

We all have come so far and made much progress over the past 18 months. We have much to look forward to, and we don’t want to revert to where we were. There will still be situations where masks are needed or required. Be prepared to be flexible and open-minded about the request.

When students return to school in the fall, many will be excited to be in a physical classroom surrounded by peers. But keep in mind that many children and teens suffered difficulties during the pandemic and may need more time to readjust. School districts should be mindful of this and prepare to have adequate mental health resources for students.

Government needs to learn from this experience, too, and navigate toward communicating clearly with the public.

And let’s be kind to one another. We don’t know what is going on behind the scenes in people’s lives, so let’s have a little more grace with one another. You don’t know why people may be choosing to still wear a mask. If they’re unvaccinated, they’re doing all of us a favor by still doing so even though we all know how easy it’d be for them to stop.

Finally, let’s be mindful of the millions of our fellow citizens who will never be able to return to their pre-pandemic life. Some may be the survivors of the nearly 600,000 people in the U.S. who died from COVID-19. For their families, watching the country open up may bring no comfort at all.