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Chicago ready to move to full reopening on June 11, Lightfoot says

Under state guidelines, Phase 5 means a full reopening with no capacity limits.

Chicago skyline, seen from 31st Street Bridge over Lake Shore Drive in July 2020.
Chicago’s downtown, as viewed from the 31st Street bridge over Lake Shore Drive.
Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday abandoned her July 4 timetable for a full reopening and said Chicago is ready to join the rest of the state in lifting all capacity restrictions on June 11.

Lightfoot made the announcement that bars, restaurants and hotels have been waiting for during a surprise appearance on the Facebook live show that Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady has been hosting every weekday during the pandemic.

“The numbers are looking great. Better than they’ve been, I think, through the entirety of the pandemic,” the mayor said, pointing to the 135 cases-a-day in Chicago and to the city’s 2% test positivity rate.

“We’ve done great work as a city. Lots of individual sacrifices along the way. So, I think we’re ready to move to Phase 5 with the state next Friday, June 11. What do you think?”

Arwady smiled. “Now is the time to do this. These numbers are looking so good right now,” she said. “Could we have a surge in the fall? Could we have a surge in the winter? If we do, that would show up in people who are not vaccinated. But right now, with the way this is heading, I completely agree with you.”

Lightfoot warned that “before people uncork the champagne and have drinks all around,” she needs to wave the caution flag.

“COVID’s still here. It’s still with us. Why we are able to do what we’re doing, no doubt, is a result of vaccinations. We want to get to that 70% threshold that the president has challenged all of us to get to. We’ve got a lot more work that we need to get done. So, keep pushing vaccine,” Lightfoot said.

“Black Chicago young folks 18-to-24 — we’ve got to get you vaccinated. ... And on a larger frame, for those of you who are still on the sidelines [or] a little skeptical, we’re gonna be rolling out a whole new array of incentives so we get to that 70% threshold.”

Arwady agreed this is no time for Chicago to take its foot off the pedal when it comes to vaccinations. The city’s vaccination rate stands at 63%.

“That’s gonna be the safest thing as we have more reopening. When we move to Phase 5, that really means that the restrictions are going to be lifted off businesses. There will not be capacity limits in place,” she said.

Noting that face masks will still be required in schools, in health care settings, on public transit and in some businesses, Arwady said: “The recommendation remains that somebody who is not vaccinated should continue to wear a mask. So now is the time, if you haven’t been vaccinated” to get a shot in the arm.

The city and state had been in the “bridge phase,” which loosened but did not remove capacity limits.

The governor on Wednesday confirmed the state also remains on track for the full reopening June 11, as most COVID-19 metrics are at the lowest levels of the pandemic.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 674 new cases diagnosed among 55,432 tests, keeping the average statewide positivity rate at an all-time low of 1.5%.

And for the first time since the initial waves of coronavirus patients flowed into hospitals more than a year ago, fewer than 1,000 beds were occupied Wednesday night (997).

The virus claimed 24 more lives, including a Cook County man in his 30s, raising the state’s pandemic death toll to 22,865.

About two-thirds of all Illinois adults have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, with more than half of those 18 or older fully immunized. About 42% of all residents have gotten their final vaccine dose.

A total of 36,372 shots went into arms Wednesday, officials said.

Last month, Lightfoot and Pritzker together announced that McCormick Place would reawaken from its 14-month, pandemic-induced slumber with the July 15 return of the Chicago Auto Show.

On the same day, the mayor went public with her goal to “fully open” Chicago by July 4.

“I am working night and day toward this goal. … I need you to continue to be on this journey with us. And that means getting vaccinated now — as soon as possible,” Lightfoot said on that day.

“Every day that our COVID-19 metrics continue to tick downward brings us a day closer to being able to put this pandemic in the rearview mirror. And we are too close to accomplishing this mission to give up now. Our goal … is to be fully open by July 4th.”

One week before, Lightfoot had vowed to be more cautious than other major cities in reopening Chicago, fearing that if the city moved too quickly, she would be forced to shut things down yet again.

Asked how that jibed with her goal of being “fully open by July 4th,” the mayor cited “steady progress” in all the health metrics Chicago follows and “modeling” that suggests those trends will continue.

“If we take care of our business” and keep building vaccination rates, “I feel very confident we can get there. … We will be one of the first cities to fully and safely reopen,” she said.