By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
Gov. JB Pritzker announced revisions to his COVID-19 mitigation tiers Friday that would allow earlier indoor dining, but no regions have thus far met the requirements.
He also announced that the whole state would move to Phase 1B of vaccination efforts as of Jan. 25, while some counties might already individually have entered that phase. As well, a new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus has been confirmed to be spreading in Illinois.
Per the revisions, indoor dining will be allowed in Phase 1 of the mitigation plan with the lesser of 25 people or 25 percent capacity allowed. An establishment must serve food to be able to offer indoor service, reservations will be required, tables will be limited to four people each, and the establishments must be closed between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
None of the 11 mitigation regions are in that phase, however, and only three were moved from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Friday, according to the governor. They include Region 1 in northern Illinois, Region 2 in north-central Illinois and Region 5 in southern Illinois.
Region 4, which is represented by Metro East, still has not met standards for mitigations to be eased.
Those regions met the state requirements to move out of Tier 3, which all regions have been in since Nov. 20. The requirements include having a test positivity rate below 12 percent for three consecutive days, 20 percent available ICU and hospital beds for three days, and a sustained decrease in the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 for seven out of 10 days.
“Some examples of loosened mitigations in Tier 2 include the return of group fitness classes, the return of lower-risk youth and recreational sports and the reopening of cultural institutions like museums at 25 percent capacity with social distancing,” Pritzker said at a Friday briefing that took place virtually.
Pritzker said if current trends hold, most regions will be out of Tier 3 in the coming days.
The announcement came as the rolling seven-day average COVID-19 case positivity rate continued to decline statewide for the seventh straight day, dropping to 6.5 percent.
Hospitalizations continued on a steady decline as well, with 3,446 people hospitalized for COVID-19 at the end of Thursday, including 712 in intensive care unit beds and 386 on ventilators.
To move into Tier 1, a region must have a test positivity rate below 8 percent for three consecutive days and meet the same hospitalization requirements that allowed it to move into Tier 2.
To move from Tier 1 to basic Phase 4 mitigations, a region must have a positivity rate below 6.5 percent for three days while meeting the same requirements for hospital bed availability.
Illinois has received 995,000 doses of Pfizer-BiNtech and Moderna vaccines for COVID-19 and administered 447,348, although administrators have three days from when the vaccine is administered to when they must report it to the state.
Pritzker noted the state “anticipates substantially completing Phase 1A next week and moving into Phase 1B of the Vaccine Plan on Jan. 25.”
Phase 1A includes long-term care residents and frontline health care workers. Phase 1B includes non-health care essential workers, residents over the age of 65 and inmates.
“While shipments from the federal government remain limited, the state is building out wide-reaching capacity to prepare for additional shipments and ensure those eligible in Phase 1B can receive their vaccine as quickly and equitably as possible,” the governor’s office said.
There is no timeline for Phase 1C at this time. It would include people aged 16 to 64 years old with high-risk medical conditions and other essential workers, according to the state’s plan which continues to evolve.
Pritzker said starting next week “and increasing over the coming several weeks,” the state will “be bringing online hundreds of vaccination sites across the state.
Those include retail pharmacy chain locations; Illinois National Guard mobile teams; state-run mass vaccination locations in northern; central and southern Illinois, hospitals and urgent care locations; and, in time, doctor’s offices and large employers who can host their own workplace clinics.
“By implementing a wide variety of locations, some appointment-based and some walk up, all across the state, Illinois is driving forward with an equitable accessible framework for administering vaccines,” Pritzker said.
He said the plan is an effort to deliver and administer vaccines as quickly as they are received from manufacturers.
“The plan coordinates our 97 local health departments statewide who operate clinics already and will open up more as vaccine supply grows,” Pritzker said, noting individual counties are accelerating entry into Phase 1B as well.
Two National Guard teams will expand vaccination clinics in Cook County starting Tuesday, with “nearly two dozen more National Guard teams ready to come online across the state in the weeks ahead as vaccination supply increases.”
Beginning Jan. 25, Pritzker said, the state will launch the Illinois COVID-19 vaccination administration plan website, “giving everyone the ability to find a nearby vaccination site and information about how to make an appointment.”
“All of this however, can only extend so far, but our weekly shipments remain still relatively small,” he said.
While Pritzker highlighted progress, he noted masking, hand washing and avoiding large gatherings will still be important as the virus evolves. A new variant first discovered in the U.K. has been identified in Chicago. Vaccines are expected to still be effective against the new variant.
“Clearly some progress has been made to combat this virus across our regions,” Pritzker said. “But I want to stress that it’s incredibly important for Illinoisans to not let their guard down. We have now formally identified the first Illinois case of the more contagious British variant. And on top of that there are new variants from Japan, South Africa, Nigeria and Brazil, that we also know a little bit about.”
According to a news release, the new U.K. strain was first identified in the U.S. two weeks ago in Colorado and has since been identified in several other states.
“Evidence suggests that this variant can spread more easily than most currently-circulating strains of COVID-19, but there is no evidence that the new strain affects the sensitivity of diagnostic tests or that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death,” according to the news release. “In addition, data suggest current vaccines will be effective and safe in providing protection against the variant.”
Pritzker’s office noted organized sports can resume in Tier 2 under the guidance initially offered by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
That means sports classified as “low risk,” such as baseball, track, cross country, gymnastics and swimming, will be allowed to participate in competitive intra-conference play in regions in Tier 2 or better.
Medium-risk sports including soccer and volleyball can participate in team scrimmages in those tiers, while high risk sports such as basketball, football, hockey and wrestling can participate in no-contact training.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.