Starting today, Illinois businesses, restaurants, bars, large-scale events, conventions, amusement parks, zoos and seated spectator events will be able to operate at full capacity and larger outdoor festivals can be held at no patron capacity restrictions.
Illinois will remain in line with face mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meaning fully vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear a mask indoors and outdoors. Exceptions to that guideline include wearing a face mask where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.
The state also is lifting the outdoor mask requirement in schools in accordance with CDC guidance.
State health officials will continue to recommend masking for unvaccinated individuals. Face masks still are required for all people while traveling on public transportation, in congregate settings, in health care settings, in schools, in day cares and at educational institutions according to Illinois Department of Public Health and CDC guidance.
Businesses and local municipalities can put in place additional mitigations as they deem appropriate.
Dr. Jay Liu, an infectious disease physician at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital, said while we can’t “let our guard down,” he is cautiously optimistic about opening the state.
“I think it’s time to open up. I think we’re already seeing benefits of vaccines, with falling infection rates and things opening up here. Other states have opened before Illinois, and [the virus] doesn’t seem to be out of control there,” he said.
“The real-world data is positive, and we’re seeing a 90%-plus prevention (of COVID-19) and the low rates of severe disease suggest the vaccines are working well. But, if the disease continues to spread unchecked in other countries, the more likely it is that we’ll see a variant that the vaccines won’t cover. This needs to be a world-wide effort, not just the U.S. and not just Illinois.”
Liu said the number of COVID-19 patients has decreased dramatically since earlier in the year, but cautions that there still are some people who are getting seriously ill.
He encourages everyone to get the vaccine, and if not, to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.
“A large portion of the hospitalized COVID patients are unvaccinated,” he explained. “Nobody thinks 100% of the population will get the vaccine, and it’s really great we’re in the place where we are that we can open up, but I wouldn’t throw caution to the wind. We need to continue monitoring [the virus] as it’s still a fluid situation.”
Michael Isaacson, assistant director of community health at the Kane County Health Department, agreed that the state is ready to move into Phase 5, based on the low number of cases and low test positivity rate in Kane County and throughout the state.
However, like Liu, he cautioned that the pandemic is not over, and some businesses and organizations may still require masks, despite vaccination status.
“This is a transition process for many businesses and organizations, and we still don’t have the number of people fully-vaccinated yet that we’d like to see,” he said. “There are some people who aren’t able to get vaccinated because of a health condition or they’re 11 and under, so many places still may want people to wear a mask. We’re asking people to be respectful of the rules of these businesses and organizations.”
How businesses are reacting to the news
In Elburn, businesses are “very happy and excited” to have reached the Phase 5 milestone, said Elburn Chamber of Commerce President Dr. Ken Baumruck.
“During the pandemic businesses have suffered greatly which has our communities suffering as well, but transitioning to full capacity will be at the owners guidelines in accordance with CDC guidelines,” he stated in an email.
Even though downtown Elburn restaurant Rise N Dine can open to full capacity, owner Cheryl Groce said that she won’t be able to because of a lack of staff, and will remain at limited capacity until she can hire more employees.
“We are running at about half of the staff that we used to have,” she said. “The hardest is finding kitchen help. It is very hard for small businesses to compete with what large companies can offer. I know we are not alone, as every restaurant I have talked to is in the same boat.”
Large entertainment venues like the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles and RiverEdge Park and the Paramount Theatre in Aurora will be able to reopen as a result of the state moving into Phase 5.
The 900-seat Arcada Theatre is set to reopen July 9 with Leonid & Friends: The Chicago Tribute. Its smaller sister operation, the Club Arcada, reopened in May.
Two new restaurants – Rock ‘N Za and Rock ‘N Ravioli – are set to open in the Arcada Theatre building as part of a major renovation project that includes new eateries, hotel suites and additional bathrooms. During the reopening of the Club Arcada, Ron Onesti, president and founder of Onesti Entertainment, which operates the Arcada Theatre and the Club Arcada along with the new amenities, spoke about reopening.
“I stuck to my guns,” he said. “A lot of our peers, they opened, or they went 25% or they did curbside. But I decided that until we’re fully done and fully ready and fully safe, we’re not going to open.”
RiverEdge Park, which has a capacity of 6,000, is set to reopen July 1 with REO Speedwagon and special guest Head East. And Sammy Hagar will perform at RiverEdge Park on July 18.
And people are anxious to hear live music again, judging by the strong ticket sales.
“The RiverEdge Park show have been selling incredibly well,” Aurora Civic Center Authority President and CEO Tim Rater said. “People are looking for things to do, things that they haven’t been able to do for a very long time. We’re excited about that. The summer is looking really exciting.”
The Aurora Civic Center Authority owns and operates the Paramount Theatre and manages RiverEdge Park for the city.
Paramount Theatre has announced plans for the return of live performances with the first local production of “Kinky Boots,” which will open on Aug. 18 and run through Oct. 17. Rater said it appears that people are “becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of coming back together.”
Rater noted that RiverEdge Park is a big enough venue for social distancing to occur between vaccinated and unvaccinated people. As he noted, all of the concerts are general admission.
“I think it’s going to be fairly easy to accommodate our concerts at RiverEdge this summer,” he said. “Everyone is going to be able to enjoy the shows. People can move around and police themselves. They can socially distance themselves.”
However, the rules for patrons attending shows at the Paramount Theatre haven’t been finalized, where it is reserved seating.
“Right now, vaccinated individuals do not need to wear masks, they do not need to socially distance, but those that are not vaccinated are supposed to wear a mask and socially distance,” Rater said. “It’s not pragmatic to socially distance people in the Paramount, because that kills almost 75% of our capacity if we were to do that. Rather than having 1,851 tickets, we would have about 440 if we were to socially distance the entire audience.”
One option that is being considered is requiring attendees to show proof of vaccination.
“We’re not going to be in a situation to socially distance our audiences, we don’t think, at this time,” Rater said.
Hotel Baker in St. Charles will now be able to host events such as weddings with no capacity restrictions.
“It’s been a challenge for the past 15, 16 months,” said Hotel Baker general manager Rowena Salas, who owns the historic hotel with her husband Joe. “That’s a given. Hotel Baker’s ability to generate revenue is based on events. Basically, that is the top revenue maker for the hotel. The restaurant and bar, that’s just there because we’re a hotel.”
The hotel, which was built in 1928, celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2018. As Salas noted, weddings are typically booked 12 to 18 months in advance and sometimes even two years in advance.
“We’re pretty booked for the rest of the year,” Salas said. “We have either three or four weddings in a weekend, and that’s between now and December. A lot of people have rescheduled for this year, so the 2020 and 2021 couples are vying for dates.”
School boards, City Council meetings
Moving into Phase 5 will mean a return to full in-person participation for public meetings, starting with the next Geneva District 304 school board meeting June 21, spokeswoman Laura Sprague wrote in an email.
Though more board members are attending meetings in person, members of the public were kept separate and came in one at a time to speak to the board.
“Additional details will be provided to the community through the On the Table email, which typically is distributed via 304Connects the week prior to the meeting,” Sprague’s email stated.
City of Geneva spokesman Kevin Stahr stated in an email that, “After Illinois moves to Phase 5 on Friday, there will no longer be any COVID-19 capacity requirements at Geneva City Council or city advisory board meetings.”
However, the city’s current mask policy will remain in place for guests entering city buildings to conduct business or attend public meetings.
The city’s mask policy calls for masks being optional two weeks after a final vaccine shot, but masks being required for those not vaccinated who are over the age of two years old.
With capacity restrictions being lifted, more people will be able to go into St. Charles Park District facilities like the Norris Recreation Center, noted Ande Masoncup, assistant superintendent of recreation at the Norris Recreation Center.
However, questions still remain around whether social distancing will still be required.
“If they keep social distancing, our group fitness classes will have to remain the same size,” Masoncup said. “If they take away the capacity limits and take away the physical distancing, then more people will be able to participate in group fitness classes.”
According to the state’s guidelines, businesses and venues should continue to allow for social distancing to the extent possible, especially indoors. Fully vaccinated people do not have to wear a face covering while inside the Norris Recreation Center or other park district facilities.
And they will not be asked for proof they are fully vaccinated.
“It’s on the honor system,” Masoncup said.
As to how Geneva Park District’s programs will respond still remains to be seen, Executive Director Shevoun Lambillotte said.
“Nobody knows what Phase 5 is,” Lambillotte said. “What we are anticipating with information from the state thus far, is that we can go back to 100% levels of capacity – but we’re not sure what it’s going to mean with six feet distancing and wearing masks. So we’re waiting on specifics.”
She said she expects the governor to give more details on Friday or Monday, which is what her staff is waiting on.
Lambillotte said the other aspect that is challenging to recreational facilities like theirs is that all the guidelines don’t come out at the same time as state pool guidelines take longer than those issued by the CDC.
“General guidelines are specific as it relates to theaters, restaurants and aquatic operations that are different than sports,” Lambillotte said.
For example, guidelines call for masks outside unless participants are playing baseball, she said.
Daycare, schools and summer camps are also under different guidelines and mask restrictions there are different also, Lambillotte said.
“I anticipate we will move to Phase 5 on June 11. We will have capacity restrictions at the pool … and the fitness center, guidelines set by the state of Illinois … all six-feet apart and 60% capacity,” Lambillotte said.
What they still don’t know is whether they have to do disinfecting every half hour at the pool and fitness center, she said.
Congregate Living Centers
Phase 5 does not affect those in congregate living situations, such as Lazarus House, a St. Charles shelter that serves the homeless, said Executive Director July Purcell.
“It means nothing for us will change,” Purcell said of Phase 5. “Senior living centers, shelters and group homes – we have to continue with everything as is, staying socially distant. … We are going to be continuing as normal with limited capacity and social distancing.”
One issue that is important for the population they serve is getting everyone vaccinated, Purcell said.
“We are doing a lot of education and encouragement for them to get vaccinated,” Purcell said. “This is a vulnerable population that is often fearful of things that involve the government and fearful of their own health.”