CHICAGO (CBS) — With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations dropping again, Gov. JB Pritzker on Thursday announced Illinois will move to the next phase of reopening, the so-called “Bridge Phase,” on May 14.

“The light that we can see at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter,” Pritzker said Thursday afternoon.

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The Bridge Phase will allow for greater capacity limits at businesses, museums, zoos, and spectator events. People with proof they have been fully vaccinated, or with a negative COVID-19 test one to three days before an event or public gathering will not count against capacity limits.

While seating capacity at restaurants and bars will remain at 50%, capacity for standing areas will increase from 25% to 30% for indoor standing areas and 50% for outdoor standing areas.

Most other businesses — including gyms, fitness centers, offices, salons, barber shops, retail stores, museums, film production,  — will increase from 50% to 60% of normal capacity. Amusement parks and sports stadiums will see capacity limits increase from 25% of normal to 60% of normal.

Flea markets and farmers markets will be able to increase capacity from 25% of normal or 15 people per 1,000 square feet to 15 people per 1,000 square feet indoors and 30 people per 1,000 square feet outdoors.

Full details on the Bridge Phase are available on the Illinois Department of Public Health website.

Pritzker said, if key COVID-19 metrics remain stable after moving into the Bridge Phase, the state could fully reopen, without any capacity limits, by June 11.

“This good news comes with a caveat. We have all seen throughout this pandemic that this virus and its variants have proven to be unpredictable. Metrics that look strong today are far from a guarantee of how things will look a week, two weeks, a month from now. We saw that last August and again last March, but what we do know is that we have tools in our arsenal, like vaccinations and wearing masks; that, if we all use them, have proven extremely effective,” Pritzker said.

Even after reaching full reopening under Phase 5, the governor said mask requirements will remain in place until the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends lifting mask mandates.

Pritzker’s announcement came as the state reported its lowest daily COVID-19 case count in nearly six weeks on Thursday, and as more than a third of the state’s population has now been fully vaccinated.

More than 60% of all adults and 85% of all seniors age 65 and older in Illinois have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“We’ve hung in there, and we’ve done what we can, and we are moving in the right direction. The number of cases is decreasing, and the number of people getting vaccinated is increasing. So that’s a great recipe,” Ezike said.

IDPH reported 1,778 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, as well as 40 more deaths. It’s the lowest daily coronavirus caseload since March 29, when the state reported 1,761 new cases. Illinois is averaging 2,333 new cases per day over the past week, down 23% from four weeks ago.

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The statewide seven-day average case positivity rate is down to 3.0%, the lowest it’s been since March 27.

As of Wednesday night, a total of 2,055 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in Illinois, including 483 in the ICU and 243 on ventilators. Hospitalizations are down slightly the past couple weeks in Illinois. Illinois is averaging 2,013 hospitalizations per day over the past week, down 4% in the past week, and down 7% in the past two weeks.

Meantime, more than a third of the state’s population — a total of 4,282,681 people — has now been fully vaccinated. However, daily vaccinations have been dropping sharply in recent weeks.

Illinois is averaging 70,063 shots per day over the past week, down 28% from one week ago, 43% from two weeks ago, and 47% from the peak of 132,979 per day on April 12. The current daily vaccination average is the lowest it’s been since Feb. 26.

Ezike said the drop in the number of people getting vaccinated is not a surprise, after the people who wanted to get one the most rushed to find available shots as soon as they were eligible.

“So now our focus is directly on the steps that we can take to get shots into the arms of those people who have not yet been vaccinated,” she said.

To do so, ,Ezike said the state is working to make vaccines available in as many locations as possible; including using mobile vaccination teams to set up clinics at churches and grocery stores. She also said any organization can request a mobile vaccination team to host a clinic. Anyone interested in hosting a vaccination clinic in their community can apply on the IDPH website.

Pritzker and Ezike also said the state is now making vaccines available to doctors’ offices across Illinois, including pediatricians’ offices.

The FDA is expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 as soon as next week. The Pfizer vaccine is the only shot authorized for teens aged 16 and 17. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available only for adults age 18 and up.

The governor said for some people who have yet to get vaccinated it’s a matter of comfort, because they’d rather get the shot from their own doctor. For others it’s a matter of convenience; waiting to get the shot when they’re already visiting the doctor for a checkup or other treatment.

“The days of vaccine scarcity are over. Today, we are in a new phase of our vaccine administration plan; of meeting people where they are, and making sure that they get their shots, perhaps, at their doctor’s office,” Pritzker said. “This is about making it as easy as possible for those who have not yet gotten vaccinated to protect themselves from COVID-19.”

Doctors who want to provide the vaccine directly to their patients can contact the Illinois Department of Public Health to sign up. The governor’s office said more than 1,000 doctors’ offices already have registered to administer vaccines on-site. To begin providing the vaccine, doctors must register with I-CARE to coordinate the ordering of doses.

 

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CBS 2 Chicago Staff