Illinois fashions a 'bridge' to reopening

Gov. Pritzker announces plan to emerge from pandemic tied to achieving metric goals

The state is moving toward relaxed restrictions on capacity limits for restaurants and other indoor facilities as well as outdoor settings as more Illinoisans are vaccinated.

At a March 18 news conference, Gov. JB Pritzker said all regions of the state will move to a so-called "bridge phase" when 70 percent of seniors 65 years of age and older have received at least their first dose of the vaccine. As of Tuesday morning, 66 percent of seniors had gotten at least one dose.

"I'm more optimistic today than I have been at any time over the last year, and more importantly the doctors and scientists are too," Pritzker added. "It's time to begin to cautiously move toward normalcy."

The move, which is designed to eventually lead the state to Phase 5 with no capacity limits, is also dependent on other metrics, including 20 percent availability of intensive care beds and a steadiness in the rate of COVID-like illness hospital admissions, mortality rate and case positivity rate over a 28-day monitoring period.

In the bridge phase, restaurants and bars can increase capacity from 25 percent to 30 percent, with outdoor capacity up to 50 percent for standing areas. Recreation activities would be allowed with groups up to 100 or 50 percent of capacity indoors, while outdoor recreation is limited to groups of 100, with multiple groups allowed at the same site. Ticketed recreation events are allowed to hold 60 percent of the facility's capacity.

For businesses, offices, retail stores and fitness centers, capacity will increase from 50 percent to 60 percent. Amusement parks and museums can increase from 25 percent to 60 percent. Theaters and zoos can have up to 60 percent capacity as well.

The largest increase would be to social events, which could allow 250 people indoors and 500 outdoors.

Under updated Phase 4 mitigations, anyone with proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test one to three days prior to an event or outing do not count against capacity limits.

But the state can revert to an earlier phase, officials said, if the state "experiences an increasing trend" in COVID-19 transmission rates and hospitalizations over a 10-day period.

Illinois Department of Public Health officials reported 2,793 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 20 deaths on Wednesday.

"Unfortunately, COVID-19 has not gone away," Pritzker said, noting the virus is still killing Illinoisans daily and that safety precautions such as masking and social distancing are still necessary.

As of Tuesday night, 1,261 patients in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 272 patients were in the ICU, and 117 patients with COVID-19 were on ventilators.

If the numbers hold steady for 28 days in the bridge phase, the state must reach a 50 percent vaccination rate for residents age 16 and over in order to enter Phase 5. Currently, about 28 percent of that population is vaccinated.

"Combining these decreasing trends and cases and hospitalizations and deaths, with increasing vaccinations," Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said at the March 18 press conference. "That is clearly a recipe for ending this pandemic. We cannot lose our momentum. To do this, we will continue to wear our masks."

Masks will continue to be mandatory in the state until the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determine that they are no longer needed, the governor said.

Vaccine information and locations can be found at, and Ezike noted those without internet access can call (833) 621-1284 to make an appointment.

On Feb. 25, the state launched Phase 1B+ of its vaccination plan, extending eligibility to people

with serious medical conditions and building on the state's effort to equitably distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. That includes residents 16 and older with disabilities or underlying conditions who aren't otherwise covered in previous eligibility categories, in accordance with CDC guidelines.

Beginning Monday, April 12, the governor announced, residents age 16 and older outside of Chicago will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations.

"Deliveries continue to rise and are expected to increase by millions more this spring," Pritzker said. "With the increased supply, Illinois is now averaging 100,000 vaccinations a day. That's about 1 percent of all adults in Illinois getting a shot each day, and I expect that number to continue to grow in the weeks ahead."

Pritzker said the state received 109,000 doses in its first vaccine shipment in December, while last week the state received more than 800,000 doses.

"Based on current projections we expect that that number will surpass 1 million doses in April," he said, adding that there will be "additional announcements to come" regarding other populations that will be eligible for the vaccine ahead of the April 12 expansion.

- Jerry Nowicki of Capitol News Illinois contributed to this story

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean