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Pritzker: Intermediate ‘bridge’ phase to reopening could come next week: ‘Common view is that Illinois has weathered the storm’

Pritzker said he couldn’t provide the exact date the state could move into the stage between Phases 4 and 5 because he hadn’t yet looked at the latest data on hospital admissions, but he said it looks like the state is in “decent shape” to advance to the bridge phase. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens during a news conference in Little Village last year.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens during a news conference in Little Village last year.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday the state has met some metrics that could allow Illinois to enter the “bridge” stage between restrictions now in place and a full reopening, cracking the door to higher capacity limits at museums, zoos and meetings potentially as early as next week.

At an unrelated news conference, Pritzker said he couldn’t provide the exact date the state could move into the stage between Phases 4 and 5 because he hadn’t yet looked at data from Sunday and Monday about hospital admissions, but he said it looks like the state is in “decent shape” to advance to the bridge phase.

“I think the common view is that Illinois has weathered the storm well, that we’ve seen what’s happened in in Michigan, and that hasn’t happened in Illinois — thank God,” Pritzker said. “This virus is sometimes unpredictable. We’ve seen new variants that arise. The UK variant is the one, of course, that is most prevalent.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at Provident Hospital on Monday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at Provident Hospital on Monday.
Screen image

“That’s why we’ve been very careful not to move to the bridge phase while we watch that variant in Illinois, but it looks very good so far. We look at all of those variants — I talked to the experts about this — I think everybody feels like we’re in a decent position — again, following the metrics — we believe that we’ll be able to move to the bridge phase.”

As for when the state will cross that bridge, the governor said, “I can’t say exactly what day that is. … I believe that it may be next week, and it’s only because I haven’t looked at today’s data or the data from yesterday with regard to hospital admissions.”

Statewide reopening metrics from the Illinois Department of Public Health show the state is largely trending in the right direction.

Nearly 80% of those 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while roughly 55% of those 16 and older have received the inoculation. Both figures surpass the benchmarks Pritzker set in March when unveiling guidelines for his newly created “bridge” phase.

A patient is wheeled out of the Intensive Care Unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side last December.
A patient is wheeled out of the Intensive Care Unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side last December.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Metrics for available, and staffed, beds in intensive care units have hovered near 20% since late April.

The department’s data also show new daily COVID-19 cases on the decline and no significant changes in the state’s daily mortality rate or new hospital admissions for COVID-19 or similar illnesses.

But the department’s data does show an increase in the overall trend of patients hospitalized with the deadly virus, a figure that’s been on the decline over the past four days.

Pritzker said he’s been “amazed” at Illinois residents’ willingness to follow the mitigations, including those who’ve been vaccinated but continue to wear masks while outdoors. He encouraged those who haven’t yet been vaccinated to do so, saying “one of the rewards is that we can all enjoy the summer without a mask on if you’ve gotten vaccinated, and you’re also doing what’s right for your family and your community.”

The governor announced the 28-day “bridge” phase of his reopening plan in March, nearly a year after issuing his first stay-at-home order.

To reach that phase, 70% of those 65 and over must have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. A full reopening comes when 50% of the state’s 16 and over population have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

A woman receives her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Richard J. Daley College in January.
A woman receives her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Richard J. Daley College in January.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

The state must also maintain a 20% or lower intensive-care-unit bed availability rate and hold steady on COVID-19 and COVID-like illness hospital admissions, mortality rate, and case rate over a 28-day monitoring period.

Less than two weeks after Pritzker announced that new plan, rising case numbers and hospitalizations pushed back any reopening plans.

In the intermediate bridge stage between Phases 4 and 5, museums will see their capacity limitations increase from 25% to 60%. The same limitations will apply to zoos.

The iconic lion statues wear face masks outside the The Art Institute of Chicago last May, one day ahead of a statewide mandate requiring masks in public places.
The iconic lion statues wear face masks outside the The Art Institute of Chicago last May, one day ahead of a statewide mandate requiring masks in public places.
Brian Rich/Archivo Sun-Times file

Amusement parks will be able to increase capacity from the 25% restriction in Phase 4 to 60% in the intermediate stage. Festivals and general admission outdoor, spectator events can seat 30 people per 1,000 square feet in the bridge phase.

Meetings, conferences and conventions will see their capacity limit increase to either 1,000 people or 60%, whichever is less. The limitations around meetings also apply to theaters and performing arts venues.