Illinois Department of Public (IDPH) Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said on Monday the state is “getting close” to the next phase of reopening amid increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates and decreasing positivity rates.
Speaking in a Senate Health Committee meeting, Ezike said the state has been working on a phased reopening plan that could be announced by Governor JB Pritzker later this week.
“We've been thinking about what the different benchmarks would be to start moving (to the next phase),” Ezike said Monday. “Maybe not just an on-off switch, but maybe a dial so there may be one more phase before we get to Phase 5.”
All of Illinois currently remains in Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan, which prohibits public gatherings of 50 people or more. According to the plan, Phase 5 is triggered when “either a vaccine is developed to prevent additional spread of COVID-19, a treatment option is readily available that ensures health care capacity is no longer a concern, or there are no new cases over a sustained period.”
Ezike said the Pritzker administration has been working on a phased approach to reopening over the course of the past month, the details of which she expects to be released “later this week.” The statement was confirmed by Jordan Abudayyeh, the governor’s press secretary Monday.
Ezike said the most important metric the state is monitoring to determine next steps to reopening is how much of the state’s most vulnerable populations have been vaccinated.
As of Tuesday, IDPH had reported that over 5 million vaccine doses had been administered in Illinois, with just over 1.8 million of those doses being given to residents over age 65.
“It really does involve how much of our most vulnerable population has been vaccinated, and of course that starts with our seniors,” Ezike said.
Ezike said that the state could begin to see a return to regular large-scale events once a “great majority” of the state’s senior population has been vaccinated.
However, Ezike stressed that when they resume, events and gatherings would still be subject to public health and safety guidelines including mask wearing, capacity limits and social distancing.
“We’re not getting rid of masks, we think masks have to continue to be a mainstay,” Ezike said.
The seven-day statewide positivity rate for March 10-16 was 2.2 percent, according to IDPH. Locally, the Montgomery County Health Department reported seven new cases in the first three days of this week for a total of 2,792 as of Tuesday, March 16, since the beginning of the pandemic.