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Chicago relaxes travel advisory

Starting Friday, states outside Illinois will be divided into two categories instead of three. The “red” category has been eliminated.

Chicago skyline.
Chicago is relaxing its COVID-19 travel advisory.
Sun-Times file

Chicago on Tuesday relaxed and simplified its emergency travel order, convinced the city has turned the corner on the second wave of the coronavirus.

Starting Friday, states outside Illinois will be divided into two categories instead of three. The “red” category has been eliminated.

Anyone returning from so-called “yellow” states with a rolling 7-day average less than 15 cases-per-day for every 100,000 residents will not be required to quarantine for 10 days upon return or test negative for COVID-19 before their arrival.

They will simply be required to wear a mask in public, maintain social distance and avoid in-person gatherings.

States with a rolling 7-day average above 15 cases-per-day for every 100,000 residents will land in the “orange” category. Anyone returning to Chicago from those states will be asked to quarantine for 10 days or test negative “no more than 72 hours” before their arrival in the city.

Hawaii is currently the only state that falls in the yellow category. All 49 other states are branded orange, along with Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.

“We’ve made this change to come more in line with updated CDC guidance related to travel and also in recognition that, increasingly, testing is available in more settings,” Arwady told a City Hall news conference on Tuesday.

“You’ll now find testing regularly available at airports, through home testing. Through more and more opportunities, we expect that to expand. However....the top line still is please avoid travel if possible.”

Chicago’s quarantine order was originally 14 days and was relaxed to 10 days, following CDC guidance. It is not being strictly enforced. Compliance is voluntary. No citations have been issued.

Even so, Arwady has argued the travel order has been “very successful from an education standpoint.”

“It’s gotten a lot of attention. It has gotten a lot of people to be really re-thinking their vacation plans or adapting their business travel, changing it where it’s not necessary, which is the biggest goal,” the commissioner said last summer when Wisconsin was added to the list.

Two weeks before Thanksgiving, Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a stay-at-home advisory and slapped a mandatory, 10-person lid on social gatherings to control a second surge of coronavirus cases that, she warned, could cause “at least a thousand more Chicagoans to die” by year’s end.

The mayor’s worst fears were not realized.

In fact, Chicago has experienced “several weeks of mostly stable or declining daily cases.” The city’s test positivity rate had dropped to 10.3%. The rolling average is 38-cases a day. That’s lower than when the three-tiered system was implemented in November.

“In November, we saw a dip, then a little bit of an increase again after Thanksgiving. We’ve seen something very similar here following the holidays. Nothing that is significantly concerning. And we are anticipating that this number will likely flatten, hopefully over the next week,” Arwady said.

“We are currently averaging just over a thousand new cases in Chicago residents-per day—well down from the 2,400 new cases-per-day that we were averaging in November, but well above the 400 new cases-per-day, which is where we’d like to be and where we were over the summer.”

Despite that “significant progress,” Lightfoot has extended the city’s stay-at-home advisory until Jan. 22 to make certain the guidelines were “aligned with that the state was doing.”

Earlier this week, Arwady was asked why the rest of us were being advised to stay home if Chicago Public Schools are safe enough to re-open for pre-K and special education students.

“If you look at the language of that stay-at-home advisory, it’s about essential. We specifically say people who are going to work, who are going to school or who are performing other essential activities should continue to do those. But, if there are things that are not essential, we have asked people to limit that,” she said.

Chicago is “in a much, much better place than we were and, in fact, we’re doing much better than the majority of the country,” the commissioner said.

“Our hospital numbers look good here in Chicago. We are under that 12% positivity. [But] the governor and the state have signaled that they want to watch, sort of the stabilization after New Year’s, which I’m in agreement with,” Arwady said.

“I do want people to understand, though, that the mitigation comes in steps. … If we’re able to back out of that [Tier 2], that doesn’t yet bring us to indoor dining, for example. It doesn’t yet completely open things back up.”