by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producerBy CBS 2 Chicago Staff

CHICAGO (CBS) — Three regions of Illinois can begin rolling back COVID-19 restrictions that have been in place statewide since just before Thanksgiving, and while indoor dining and bar service won’t be allowed just yet, Gov. JB Pritzker on Friday said that will be allowed to happen sooner than expected.

The regions moving to Tier 2 of the state’s virus mitigation plan on Friday include Region 1 (Northern Illinois, including Jo Davies, Stephenson, Winnebago, Boone, Dekalb, Carrol, Ogle, Whiteside, Lee, and Crawford counties), Region 2 (North-Central Illinois, including Rock Island, Henry, Bureau, Putnam, Kendall, Grundy, Mercer, Knox, Henderson, Warren, McDonough, Fulton, Stark, Marshall, Peoria, Tazwell, McLean, Woodford, Livingston, and Lasalle counties), and Region 5 (Southern Illinois, including Marion, Jefferson, Wayne, Edwards, Wabash, Perry, Jackson, Franklin, Williamson, Saline, Hamilton, White, Gallatin, Union, Johnson, Pope, Hardin, Alexander, Massac, and Pulaski counties).

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All eight other regions, including Chicago and the Cook County suburbs, remain under Tier 3 restrictions which have been in place statewide since Nov. 20, but Pritzker said most of those regions of Illinois are on track to move to Tier 2 in the coming days if their virus trends hold.

In order to have Tier 3 mitigations rolled back to Tier 2, a given region must have a 7-day average test positivity rate of less than 12% for at least three days in a row, have more than 20% of its hospital beds and intensive care unit beds available for three consecutive days, and have declining numbers of COVID hospitalizations in 7 of the past 10 days.

While the move to Tier 2 won’t allow for restaurants and bars to resume indoor service, it will allow for gyms and fitness centers to resume group fitness classes, for the return of lower-risk youth and recreational sports, and for the reopening of museums, theaters, and other cultural institutions at 25% capacity. Casinos also will be allowed to reopen at 25% capacity.

Originally, indoor restaurant and bar service would not have been allowed until a region was able to move back through Tier 2 and Tier 1 mitigations to Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois economic reopening plan. But Pritzker said Friday the state is revising its COVID-19 restrictions to allow indoor dining and bar service to resume when regions are able to move back to Tier 1 mitigations.

To move from Tier 2 to Tier 1, a region must have a 7-day average test positivity rate below 8% for three days in a row, have at least 20% of its hospital beds and intensive care unit beds available for three consecutive days, and have no sustained increase in COVID hospitalizations for 7 of the past 10 days.

Pritzker said, under the new plan, when a region moves to Tier 1, indoor dining and bar service will be allowed with a capacity limit of the lesser of 25 people or 25% of normal capacity per room, and no more than four people per table.

Rules for indoor dining and bar service will be eased further when regions are able to move to Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan. To do so, a region must have a test positivity rate of 6.5% or less for three days in a row.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, when a region moves back to Phase 4 of the reopening plan, indoor dining and bar service will remain at 25% capacity, but up to 10 customers will be allowed per table, although tables must be spaced at least six feet apart.

The announcement that indoor dining and bar service can resume sooner than originally planned comes a day after Mayor Lori Lightfoot had said she wanted bars and restaurants in Chicago to be allowed to reopen “as soon as possible” and said she would be talking to Pritzker about how to make that happen.

The governor said he has spoken with Lightfoot and said, while Chicago is not yet ready to move back to Tier 1, or even Tier 2 mitigations yet, he said he hopes Chicago can begin rolling back its restrictions soon, based on its current virus trends.

Restaurant owners say frustration over those complicated details was made even worse hearing the mixed messaging from those at the top, especially after the governor spoke Friday.

“As a restaurant owner, we’re still just trying to get open,” said restaurant owner Rico Nance. “It sounds ok, but I’m not really understanding.”

All it meant to him is employees at his restaurant in Hyde Park who rely on indoor dining are still out of work.

“A lot of people that are even in the field have to say ‘You know what, I have to choose another field. This is no longer stable for me,'” he said.

Some argue the city’s metrics are higher – in part – because potential costomers are gathering at unregulated parties.

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“Allow us to have them in our establishments and allow us to police them,” said Steven Hartenstein, who sits on the Board of the Illinois Restaurant Association.

“Everybody’s got the same concern as far as health and safety and now we need to think about the employees,” said Hartenstein, who is also CFO of Phil Stefani Signature Restaurants.

“They are moving very much in the right direction,” Pritzker said. “This isn’t random decision making. We’ve been very clear, and I think transparent, about what the metrics are, based on science, based on the recommendations of doctors, and you’ve seen that other regions are moving down to Tier 2 and are, frankly, on a trajectory to get to Tier 1 relatively soon.”

Chicago’s current positivity rate sits at 9.6%. But some owners are pushing to get people inside on a limited basis by the end of January.

Meantime, Pritzker also announced Illinois will begin Phase 1B of its vaccination plan on Jan. 25, when the vaccine will be made available to people age 65 and older and workers in essential non-healthcare industries like teachers, grocery store workers, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and more.

The governor said, starting next week, the state also will be bringing online hundreds of vaccination sites, including pharmacy locations, National Guard mobile teams, and state-run mass vaccination sites in northern, central, and southern Illinois in order to expand Phase 1A vaccination efforts to inoculate frontline healthcare workers.

Starting Tuesday, the Illinois National guard has been ordered to activate new mobile teams to help local health departments administer vaccinations. The state is deploying two such teams to Cook County Health sites, with nearly two dozen other teams ready to deploy across the state as Illinois’ vaccine supply increases, according to Pritzker.

Once Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination plan begins on Jan. 25, Pritzker said mass vaccination sites; as well as Walgreens, CVS, and Jewel-Osco sites will begin inoculating people statewide.

People will first have to make appointments online, and Pritzker said the state will launch its COVID-19 vaccination administration plan website soon so people can find sites in their area and sign up for appointments.

While Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said they remain frustrated with the slow pace of vaccine distribution from the federal government so far, the governor said he’s confident the incoming Biden administration will ramp up production and delivery of vaccines.

According to IDPH, a total of 995,000 doses of vaccine have been delivered to Illinois so far. As of Thursday night, a total of 447,348 doses have been administered.

“The amount of vaccine coming into Illinois … is still at a trickle,” Ezike said. “It’s not as much as we want, or as much as we need, but we are working to get the vaccine that is delivered to Illinois into the arms of people as quickly, and as equitably, and as effectively as possible.”

President-elect Biden has outlined a $1.9 trillion plan to fund his vaccination effort and provide economic relief to Americans still struggling during the pandemic.

His plan calls for a $20 billion investment in a national vaccination program, including community vaccination centers and mobile vaccination units. The proposal also includes $1,400 stimulus checks, and more money for the unemployed, those facing food shortages, those facing eviction, and those in need of child care.

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