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Pritzker Announces Phase 3 Reopening Changes: Restaurants and Bars Can Open Outdoor Seating

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced Wednesday changes to the state’s “Phase 3” portion of the Restore Illinois plan, which begins on May 29th. 

“We are by no means out of the woods, but directionally, things are getting better,” Pritzker said in a press release. “And because of these advances, we are able to make some modifications to allow more activity during Phase 3 of our reopening plan Restore Illinois. “Our mission has always been to get people back to work, get students back to school and return to as much normalcy as possible without jeopardizing the health and safety of Illinoisans.”

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker speaks to supporters on election night in November 2018. Photo by Aaron Cynic.

The biggest change to Phase 3 is that bars and restaurants will be allowed to have outdoor dine-in services, provided establishments follow protocols outlined by officials. 

“With the right restrictions – tables six feet apart and away from the sidewalks, masks and distancing measures for staff and other precautions – the experts believe that these services can open at a risk comparable to other outdoor activities and give our hospitality a much-needed boost,” Pritzker said at an afternoon press conference.

Phase 3 also allows a wide variety of other businesses to open, as well as opportunities for outdoor activities. Health clubs, gyms, and fitness studios can provide one-on-one personal training in indoor facilities and host outdoor fitness classes for up to ten people. All retail stores will be allowed to open for in person shopping provided they follow protocols issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health, including capacity limits. Additionally businesses such as barbershops, tattoo parlors, nail salons, and spas will be allowed to open. 

All state parks will open on the 29th as well, along with concession stands. Tennis facilities, outdoor shooting ranges, paintball courses, and driving ranges can also open, and some other restrictions have been relaxed for golf courses. Groups of up to ten people will be allowed to go camping or boating together. Local municipal governments will be allowed to establish restrictions in any areas. 

Health officials announced 2,388 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with 147 additional deaths. Within the past 24 hours, laboratories have reported 21,029 specimens for a total of 642,713.  The statewide 7-day rolling positivity rate, May 11-17, 2020 is 14 percent.

COVID-19 cases in Illinois as of May 20, 2020. Screengrab via the Illinois Department of Public Health website.

IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said the number of people hospitalized has fallen below 4,000 to 3,914. Of those hospitalized, 1,005 are in intensive care units and 554 are on ventilators. 

“This is the lowest number since we were capturing these numbers that we have had for COIVD-19 patients in the hospital,” Ezike said at an afternoon press conference. 

Pritzker reminded Illinoisans that the COVID-19 virus is not over, and said that throwing all restrictions out the window as some states have could lead to a rise in cases and hospitalizations. 

“Here in Illinois we have followed the science and we’re succeeding, but we can’t let up now,” said Pritzker. “We’ve come too far and made so much progress because we’ve kept social distance, worn face coverings in public, washed our hands frequently, and taken care of our most vulnerable to the best of our ability. We must persevere.”

The Illinois Restaurant Association called the move a step in the right direction. 

“The Governor’s action to allow for expanded outdoor dining options will benefit many restaurants at a time when every dollar counts and provides a glimmer of light at the end of this long, COVID-19 tunnel. Innovative outdoor dining strategies extend a lifeline – restoring jobs and offering guests the hospitality experience they’ve been missing while prioritizing public health and safety. Outdoor dining will not help every restaurant, but it is a constructive step in the right direction,“ said Sam Toia, President & CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association in a statement.

Despite the encouraging news however, the risks to reopening are still high. It’s unclear how guidelines for businesses will be enforced, and even if all guidelines are followed to the letter, the virus still has a good chance of spreading, particularly if people who have contracted it but aren’t yet experiencing symptoms head out. One person in Seoul, South Korea, tested positive for the virus after visiting five nightclubs. Shortly after, more than 100 people tested positive for the virus. With more than 1.58 million cases across America and the death toll and 93,622 and still rising, a patchwork set of reopenings could spell disaster. 

Illinois COVID-19 cases from March 16 – May 20. Screengrab via Google.

“The only thing that was keeping this very contagious virus in check was each of us keeping that physical distance,” former Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen told CNN on Tuesday. “If we’re going to let people go to work and reopen, we are going to be introducing risk of some kind. The key is what are the steps we can take to reduce that risk as much as possible?”

Particularly vulnerable are service industry workers. Employees at restaurants that have remained open for delivery and take-out, along with grocery stores and other essential workers, have reported a lack of personal protective equipment, a lack of paid sick leave, and instances where they were not told about co-workers who had tested positive for the virus. While customers at outdoor bars and restaurants might be spaced six feet apart, employees will still have to work in close quarters indoors, and will inevitably come into more contact with people during their shifts than patrons. Meanwhile, restaurants and retail outlets across America have had to deal with irate, threatening, and even violent customers who refuse to wear masks or follow other social distancing guidelines. All of these factors could contribute to cases beginning to increase instead of decrease, eventually leading to an even deadlier second wave. 

“The talk of a second wave as if we’ve exited the first doesn’t capture what’s really happening,” Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security,” told The Atlantic on Wednesday.  

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