Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has unveiled a five-phase plan for reopening the state. Based on the plan’s guidelines, it could be over a year before churches are able to meet again at full capacity.
“You know that in phase three, there can be gatherings, church gatherings, of 10 or fewer. In phase four, 50 or fewer,” said Pritkzer in a press briefing on May 6. “So that’s the guidance that’s been given to me. I’m not the one providing that guidance. It really is what the scientists and epidemiologists are recommending.”
It is only in Phase 5 of the governor’s plan that gatherings of more than 50 people will be able to meet once again. Pritzker made it clear that the state will not be able to move into that final phase until a vaccine or otherwise effective treatment for COVID-19 is available.
Illinois Governor Unveils Data-Driven Plan to Reopen
Governor Pritzker unveiled his “Restore Illinois” plan Tuesday, the same day the state saw its highest number of deaths yet from COVID-19. The plan divides Illinois into four separate regions, with the understanding that the regions will move through the five phases independently as they meet the plan’s criteria.
Phase 1-Rapid Spread is a phase that the entire state has already experienced. In this phase, residents must follow strict shelter-at-home and social distancing guidelines, and only essential businesses can remain open. While all of Illinois’ regions are currently out of Phase 1, the plan says they could return to it “if mitigation efforts are unsuccessful.”
Phase 2-Flattening is the phase that the four regions are currently in. In the Flattening phase, non-essential businesses can open with limitations. Residents can participate in some outdoor activities, as long as they practice social distancing and wear face masks.
In Phase 3-Recovery, social distancing and face masks are still required, but people will be allowed to gather in groups of 10 or fewer. Businesses such as salons and offices will be able to open as long as they follow safety precautions.
Phase 4-Revitalization maintains the requirement for face masks and social distancing, but expands the limit on gatherings to 50 or fewer. Schools, restaurants, and child care facilities will be able to reopen and travel will resume, all under guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
In Phase 5-Illinois Restored, the economy will fully reopen and large gatherings of people will once more be allowed, albeit with “new safety guidance and procedures.”
Phase 2 is currently in effect until May 29, although the Illinois governor’s plan does not depend on dates, but rather data showing the disease is decreasing. There are several requirements for regions to move into Phase 3. One is that they must demonstrate a positivity rate of 20 percent or less. Another is that hospitals must have a surge capacity of at least 14 percent of ICU beds, medical and surgical beds, and ventilators. You can read the Illinois governor’s plan in detail here.
Pritzker made it clear that the economy will not fully reopen, with churches, businesses, and schools operating at normal capacity, until the pandemic is effectively suppressed. He said, “Until we have a vaccine or an effective treatment or enough widespread immunity that new cases fail to materialize, the option of returning to normalcy doesn’t exist.” According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a vaccine is not expected for 12 to 18 months.
Several churches in Illinois have pushed back on or ignored the governor’s restrictions. Dozens of people from the congregation of the Beloved Church in Lena met for worship last Sunday. The rural church has sued Pritzker in federal court and has asked for a temporary restraining order to protect them from the consequences of his restrictions. That request was denied. The church has since brought its case to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Two other Illinois churches, one in Chicago and one in Niles, have also asked for temporary restraining orders so they can gather for worship. These two churches can seat hundreds of people and have suggested ways to modify their seating and observe safety precautions.
On the other hand, Reverend Marshall Hatch, pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, does not plan to fully reopen his church until people can come back to work and fans can attend sporting events again. Hatch has lost his best friend and his older sister to COVID-19.