CHICAGO (CBS) — Gov. JB Pritzker on Thursday confirmed all four regions of Illinois can move to Phase 3 of the “Restore Illinois” plan to reopen the economy, as state officials also announced new guidance for houses of worship to resume services.
The city of Chicago, however, will delay the start of Phase 3 until June 3, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced earlier in the day.
The announcement that the state is moving to the next phase of its reopening plan came as public health officials announced 1,527 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 104 more deaths.
Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said, as of Thursday afternoon, Illinois has had 115,833 confirmed coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, including 5,186 deaths.
“Among those that have passed associated with COVID, almost 44% were those in long-term care facilities, and as we’ve known from the beginning, nursing homes and other congregate settings have always been at increased risk for outbreaks,” Ezike said.
Pritzker said IDPH has filed a new rule requiring every nursing home in the state to develop its own individual testing plan, and document an established relationship with a testing lab — either a private lab, local hospital, or a state lab. Nursing homes would be required to conduct testing whenever experiencing an outbreak, or if an outbreak is suspected.
“To be clear, this rule doesn’t deviate from our existing priorities. But it gives IDPH, a regulatory agency, additional teeth in securing buy-in from these private entities administrators who declined to provide a testing plan will be found in violation of the rule,” Pritzker said.
Nursing homes that violate the new rules would be subject to fines, and possible revocation of their state licenses.
As of Wednesday night, there were 3,649 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois; including 1,009 in intensive care, and 576 on ventilators.
As of Thursday, the state’s COVID-19 recovery rate was at 92%. The state’s recovery rate calculates the number of people who have tested positive for the virus, and have survived at least 42 days after their test.
“As a state, we are definitely headed in the right direction. We have successfully met the metrics to move into Phase 3, but we must still proceed with caution. The risk of contracting the virus remains, so I ask, I implore that we continue to practice the use of face coverings, washing our hands, and be physically distant as much as possible – a minimum of 6 feet,” Ezike said.
With Phase 3 of the reopening plan starting Friday, IDPH has posted guidance for churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship to protect their congregations as they seek to resume services.
“Having received many plans and ideas from responsible faith leaders, IDPH has reviewed many detailed proposals, and has provided guidance – not mandatory restrictions – for all faith leaders to use in their efforts to ensure the health and safety of their congregants,” Pritzker said.
According to the IDPH website, houses of worship that chose to hold in-person services are encouraged to do so outdoors, or in groups of less than 10 people. Face coverings and six feet of distance between people are recommended under any circumstance. The state’s guidance also recommends capacity limits that allow for six feet or more of distance between congregants, and a limit of 25% attendance, or a maximum of 100 people, whichever is lower.
“The safest options remain remote and drive-in services, but for those that want to conduct in-person activities, IDPH is offering best practices,” Pritzker said.
The state also recommends houses of worship conduct multiple small services, rather than one large service; expand capacity limits gradually to test and improve safety protocols; implement reservation systems and assigned seating to limit capacity; use staggered arrival and departure times; and consider separate services for groups that are especially vulnerable to the virus — such as senior citizens, small children, or those with underlying health conditions.
The guidance also recommends discouraging singing and group recitations, or setting strict limits on the number of people who can participate and ensure six feet of distance between people.
Churches also should discontinue shared food and beverages such as potlucks, or buffet-style meals. If food or beverages will be served, they should be in single-serve containers.
For outdoor services, face coverings would still be recommended, and people who are living together are encouraged to sit together, at least six feet apart from other groups.
The governor’s announcement about guidance for churches comes as two Chicago area churches are asking the U.S. Supreme Court for an emergency injunction that would allow them to hold normal services this Sunday, despite the state’s limit of 10 people on indoor public gatherings.
Under Phase 3 of Restore Illinois, non-essential manufacturing, offices, and retail businesses would be allowed to reopen under approved safety guidance from IDPH. Remote work, whenever possible, would still be encouraged.
Barber shops and salons would be allowed to reopen; and gyms and fitness clubs would be allowed to offer outdoor classes and one-on-one training; all with IDPH guidance. State parks also would be allowed to reopen, as would limited childcare and summer programs. Non-essential public gatherings of up to 10 people would be allowed, as opposed to the current limit of only essential gatherings of up to 10 people.
Earlier this week, Pritzker announced bars and restaurants also would be able open outdoor service during Phase 3, but still would not be allowed to serve customers indoors until Phase 4. Tables outdoors would have to be six feet apart from each other, and staff would have to wear face coverings and take other social distancing precautions.
Asked how the state will provide help to workers who don’t feel safe returning to work in Phase 3, Pritzker said the state is providing guidance to employers to make sure workplaces are following proper safety protocols.
“Employees that find that employers are not following that guidance should report that their employers are not following it, and of course that should be reported either to the Attorney General’s workplace enforcement office or the Department of Labor, both of which had the ability to enforce it,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker said businesses also must use discretion when it comes to employees who have pre-existing conditions that would make them vulnerable to the virus.
“Obviously what we’re looking for here is a common decency. That should come from employers, and then of course we’ll rely on enforcement wherever we need to,” the governor said.
On Sunday, Pritzker released industry-specific guidelines to allow for the safe reopening of businesses during the next phase of the reopening plan. On Tuesday, he said the state would work with faith leaders to come up with guidelines for allowing churches to hold services for up to 10 people, which remains the limit on public gatherings in Phase 3.
On Thursday, the governor also said horse racing would be returning to Illinois tracks in Phase 3, but without fans in the stands.