It's official: Illinois will enter Phase 5 of it's COVID-19 reopening plan on June 11

Zach Roth
State Journal-Register

The state of Illinois announced Friday that it will officially enter Phase 5 of its reopening plan next week on schedule, marking the end of 15 months of capacity restrictions and mandates brought on to help defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. JB Pritzker said in a press release that with hospitalizations and caseloads declining, not to mention having more than half of the population vaccinated, the time was right to commence the move to full reopening on June 11.

"After a tremendously challenging year, Illinois has now reached a defining moment in our efforts to defeat COVID-19," Pritzker said. "Thanks to the hard work of residents across the state, Illinois will soon resume life as we knew it before – returning to events, gatherings, and a fully reopened economy, with some of the safety guidelines we’ve adopted still in place."

The new guidance means that businesses, sporting events, conventions, theme parks and other events can return to full capacity and attendance, with vaccinated people being allowed to go without their masks, a sign of a return to normalcy that so many across the state have been waiting for.

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Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said that thanks to the vaccine, life is returning to normal across the state and Phase 5 was achievable.

"The vaccine is giving us our freedoms back and allowing us to move to Phase 5," Ezike said. "This pandemic has robbed us of many of our freedoms such as going to ball games and concerts, celebrating graduations, weddings, and birthdays, going to dinner with friends, and even sharing a hug with loved ones we don’t live with. Let’s keep the vaccination momentum going so we can put this pandemic in the rearview mirror and not look back."

The state has provided 11,427,833 vaccinations, with 5,347,362 people having been fully vaccinated, representing 41.97% of the population. More than 67% of all adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, with 51% of them having been fully vaccinated.

Those numbers have helped to facilitate the move to Phase 5, while also providing for the return of big events like conventions, not to mention a return to regular summer travel. Sylvia Garcia, acting director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said that the reopening, along with the new state budget that provides for funding to help with business grants and tourism, will be a big step toward full recovery for the state.

"The state’s move to Phase 5 next week marks a significant milestone in our efforts to bring businesses and workers back safely and will play a key role in getting the economy back on track," Garcia said. "New investments in the Governor’s budget will ensure that the state continues to play a vital role in aiding in the emergency response, while laying the groundwork for a sustained economic recovery."

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In other news, Hispanic Women of Springfield is planning to hold a drive-thru vaccination clinic from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at Knight's Action Park.

Anyone interested in getting vaccinated must sign up by calling HWS at (217) 679-1434 or by emailing the group at hwofspringfield@gmail.com. The Pfizer vaccine will be provided, with the date for the second dose being announced at a later time.

The clinic comes as a follow-up to an event also held at Knight's in March that attracted 300 people. The hope is that the group can get at least 50 people to sign up and receive shots in order to hold the events. The Illinois Public Health Association will help to provide the vaccine, while students from Southern Illinois University School of Medicine will help distribute the shots.

Jeanette Sanchez, a member of HWS' board, said that the events are largely designed to help the city's Spanish-speaking community get their vaccine, not to mention having them help out with the event.

"(We wanted) to reach out to the Hispanic community and let them know that they could come forward, that there were Spanish-speaking people that could help with the event," Sanchez said. "Getting the vaccine is a good idea, not just because it protects you, but the other people around you."

Sanchez worked as a respiratory therapist for 15 years, making her a good source of information on COVID-19 and its impact on people. She understands the importance of getting the vaccine, particularly for Hispanic people who work in fields like the service sector, which has plenty of interaction with others.

"We're trying to make our community safer," Sanchez said. "(They) may be more susceptible to COVID because (they) do deal with the public more."

Sanchez has proven herself to be a good persuader of Latino and Hispanic people to get the vaccine, having talked to people reluctant to get their jab due to the side effects that can come with it. For instance, she attempted to get a person who was reluctant to get the vaccine due to those side effects by bringing up how much better it is to get the shot than the virus.

"She's really afraid to go get it because she heard about the side effects from the second dose," Sanchez said. "I told her, 'Yes, that is a possibility. You might not feel good for a few days, maybe even a week, but it's better to get the vaccination.' We need to be protected and we need to protect others."

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The lower expectations for the clinic match up with declining vaccination numbers across the state, with 53,156 doses being reported Friday by the Illinois Department of Public Health. The seven-day average continues to decline, moving down to 36,025 doses per day, the lowest since January 27.

Sangamon County reported 516 vaccinations Friday, with the seven-day average staying steady at 389 shots per day. Overall, the county has reported 178,171, with 86,015 people being fully vaccinated, representing 44.03% of the population.

Caseloads also continued their steady drop Friday, with 626 new cases being reported, along with 15 new deaths. Christian County reported one death, a woman in her 60s.

The positivity rate also continued its tumble, coming in at 1.6% Friday, with the rate as a percentage of total tests also declining to 1.3%. Both numbers are the lowest that they have been since the beginning of the pandemic.

Sangamon County reported six new positive cases Friday with no additional deaths. Menard County reported no new cases or deaths.