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Illinois’ phases, tiers explained: Here’s the state’s reopening timeline under new ‘resurgence mitigation’ plan

As the state approaches a year of coronavirus-related shutdowns, Gov. Pritzker has laid out updated guidelines to ease Illinois back into reopening.

People wear masks as they line up to enter the Illinois Department of Motor Vehicles in Deerfield, Ill., Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.
Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo

For most of the last year, since Illinois’ first COVID-19 case was identified in January 2020, the state has been operating under a combination of staggered closure and reopening plans designed to mitigate its spread. Public health officials say these guidelines have helped the state lower community spread of the COVID-19 virus and saved lives.

The plans implemented by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health divide the state into 11 regions. Each region’s success in containing the virus is measured by hitting set benchmarks in a series of metrics related to COVID-19 caseloads, like positivity rate averages over time and ICU bed occupancy. The initial plan developed in the spring called for a series of “phases” with increasingly lenient restrictions; the more recent “resurgence mitigation” plan — put into action before Thanksgiving as positive cases surged — divided containment-focused restrictions across a trio of “tiers.”

The three-tiered “resurgence mitigation” stages were inserted into the initial five-phase plan between Phase 3 and Phase 4. As a region’s COVID-19 metrics improve, it can advance from Tier 3 to Tier 2 to Tier 1. After Tier 1, Illinois’ regions reenter the original “phase” system, advancing to Phase 4 and finally, to Phase 5, which marks the end of the public health response. Alternatively, regions can move backwards if their metrics go in the wrong direction.

Here’s a basic graphic from the state explaining the progression of the tiers and phases:

Illinois Department of Public Health

Each time a region moves to a new tier or phase, restrictions on business operations and private or public gatherings are either tightened or loosened, so understanding the health department’s criteria for advancement through the system can help residents figure out what lies ahead. Some mitigation rules apply to every tier and phase, such as requirements for face coverings, social distancing and hand washing, but here’s a look at how they differ:

(Note: Positivity rate refers to seven-day positivity rate, the metric used by the state.)

TIER 3

How a region enters Tier 3: Sustained positivity rate of 13% or more for three straight days after a two-week monitoring period in Tier 2

How a region advances to Tier 2: Sustained positivity rate between 8-12% and ICU bed availability greater than 20% for three straight days; no sustained increase in hospitalizations

What it means: The most aggressive measures to limit spread of the virus, including:

  • Suspended indoor service for bars and restaurants
  • Museums, casinos, indoor fitness classes must pause operations
  • Indoor sports and recreation not allowed; outdoor groups limited to 10
  • Office workers encouraged to work remotely
  • Limiting meetings and gatherings to only household members is encouraged

See more mitigations under Tier 3 here.

TIER 2

How a region enters Tier 2: From Tier 1 — Sustained positivity rate of 8-12% for three straight days after a two-week monitoring period in Tier 1.

From Tier 3 — Sustained positivity rate between 8-12% and ICU bed availability greater than 20% for three straight days; no sustained increase in hospitalizations

How a region advances to Tier 1: Test positivity rate between 6.5-8% and ICU bed availability greater than 20% for three straight days; no sustained increase in hospitalizations

What it means: Less aggressive mitigations than Tier 3, but more aggressive than Tier 1.

  • Suspended indoor service for bars and restaurants
  • Some businesses closed under Tier 3 – such as museums, casinos and indoor fitness classes – can resume operations with capacity restrictions.
  • Household gatherings encouraged to be limited to no more than 10 people; meetings limited to no more than 10 people
  • Limit to 25 people or 25% capacity for indoor and outdoor sports and recreation

See more mitigations under Tier 2 here.

TIER 1

How a region enters Tier 1: From Phase 4 — Test positivity rates of greater than 8% for three straight days OR sustained increases in testing positivity rates and hospitalizations over 7-10 days and ICU bed availability of 20% or less

From Tier 2 — Test positivity rate between 6.5-8% and ICU bed availability greater than 20% for three straight days; no sustained increase in hospitalizations

How a region advances to Phase 4: Sustained positivity rate of less than 6.5% and ICU bed availability greater than 20% for three straight days; no sustained increase in hospitalizations

What it means: Most industries are back to Phase 4 rules with some significant exceptions.

  • Indoor service allowed for bars and restaurants with capacity limits of 25% or 25 people per room. No tables exceeding four people.
  • Most other businesses can operate under Phase 4 rules
  • Household gatherings allowed; meetings limited to no more than 25 people

See more mitigations under Tier 2 here.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker adjusts his mask during a press conference in July 2020.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

PHASE 4

How a region enters Phase 4: Sustained positivity rate of less than 6.5% and ICU bed availability greater than 20% for three straight days; no sustained increase in hospitalizations

How a region exits Phase 4 and returns to Tier 1: Testing positivity rates of greater than 8% for three straight days OR sustained increases in testing positivity rates and hospitalizations over 7-10 days and ICU bed availability of 20% or less

What it means: The least aggressive measures until the end of the public health response.

  • Indoor service allowed for bars and restaurants with seating areas required to be six feet apart and standing areas limited to 25% capacity. Parties limited to no more than 10 people.
  • All workers that are able to work from home are encouraged to do so.
  • Most businesses allowed to operate under capacity limits, including movie theaters, zoos and hotels.

See more mitigations under Phase 4 here.

PHASE 5: ILLINOIS RESTORED

How a region enters Phase 5: Developments like widespread vaccination, combined with the universal protection measures required in all previous phases and tiers, ensure “health care capacity is no longer a concern, or there are no new cases over a sustained period.”

What it means: The state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is over. All sectors of the economy reopen with businesses, schools, and recreation resuming normal operations with new safety guidance and procedures. Conventions, festivals and sporting events have the green light to take place again.