Illinois State Representatives Blaine Wilhour and Darren Bailey walk down the steps of the Clay County Courthouse prior to Bailey’s court hearing for a lawsuit against state Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Stay at Home Executive Order

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced last week his plan to reopen the state amid “flattening the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic within its borders.

The plan, dubbed Restore Illinois by the governor, is broken up into five phases and separates Illinois into four regions for the purpose of allowing businesses throughout the state to reopen and end the Stay at Home Executive order which has been in place for state residents since March 21. The division of the state into separate regions for the purpose of reopening is something various media and downstate legislators have been questioning Pritzker about since the governor’s decision to extend his Stay at Home order through the month of May.

“Reality on the ground looks different in different areas of the state,” said Pritzker during his daily press briefing regarding the fight against COVID-19, shortly after the plan was released to the public.

The four regions are based upon the 11 Illinois Department of Public Health regions for Emergency Medical Services throughout the state, combining at least two IDPH regions for each of the four Restore Illinois regions. The four Restore regions include the Northeast region, which includes IDPH regions 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 comprising of Chicago and the suburban area surrounding it; the North-Central region, which includes IDPH regions 1 and 2 comprising of the northwestern-most portions of the state to the Peoria and Bloomington areas; the Central region, which includes IDPH regions 3 and 6 comprising of the areas between Danville and Quincy, including Springfield; and the Southern region, which includes IDPH regions 4 and 5 comprising of the Metro-East, Carbondale and Southeastern Illinois areas.

The phases of the governor’s plan have already begun, with Phase 1, which encompassed the Stay at Home order and shuttering businesses deemed non-essential by the state, with bars and restaurants only being allowed to operate curbside and delivery services, taking place in March. Phase 2, which Pritzker notes to be the status of the state retroactively from May 1, allows for retail stores to open in an online and pick-up order capacity, requires face coverings when social distancing guidelines cannot be adhered to and opened up some state parks and outdoor activities, such as boating, fishing and golfing.

In order to advance from Phase 2, any of the four regions must maintain new positive testing for the virus at 20 percent or below, with nor major spikes in cases; see hospital admissions for Coronavirus stabilize over a 28-day period; and have at least 14 percent of hospital beds and equipment available to respond to a surge in new COVID-19 patients. Testing must also be available for anyone with underlying conditions, as well as residents and staff members of nursing homes, jails and similar large-group settings.

Contact tracing, the process of retracing a positive case’s contacts and travel, over a 24 hour period from diagnosis will also go into effect a the start of Phase 3.

In Phase 3, offices, salons and barber shops will be allowed to reopen, though only with limited capacity and with other safety precautions enacted. The face covering requirement will remain in place, and gatherings of 10 or fewer will be allowed as well.

Advancing to Phase 4 will require each region to keep their respective positive case rate and hospital admission numbers to the same standard as the previous phase advancement. In addition, the regions will need to have testing available for all residents, regardless of symptoms, and establish contact tracing within 24 hours for more than 90 percent of their cases.

Phase 4 will see childcare centers and schools, as well as bars and restaurants reopen, though they will be required to follow safety guidelines provided by IDPH. Gatherings of 50 or less people will be allowed, and travel will resume as well.

Moving into Phase 5, the final phase of the plan, either a vaccine or effective treatment must be widely available, or a region must maintain no no cases over a sustained period of time.

“Until we have a vaccine or an effective treatment or enough widespread immunity that new cases fail to materialize, the option to return to normal doesn’t exist,” Pritzker stated.

Phase 5 would reopen conventions, large events and festivals. It would also allow all businesses, schools and recreational events to resume with safety guidance.

The Pritzker plan has been met with some resistance, however.

Illinois State Representatives Darren Bailey and Blaine Wilhour, both outspoken critics of the governor, have produced their own three-phase plan which they dub the Back to Business plan.

“This is our proposed plan,” Bailey announced on his State Senate 55th District campaign Facebook page on May 6. “It will be up to county health departments to (adopt it).”

For the rest of the story, check out this week's Navigator.