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Citing improving virus numbers, Illinois officials relax Metro East restrictions

Citing improving virus numbers, Illinois officials relax Metro East restrictions

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The Illinois Department of Public Health on Friday announced that Metro East health conditions have improved to the point that movie theaters, casinos, cultural institutions, offices and fitness centers can open with capacity restrictions.

Region four in the state’s public health plan includes Madison, St. Clair, Bond, Clinton, Monroe, Randolph and Washington counties, and it now has moved from the more restrictive tier three to tier two of Illinois’ coronavirus strategy. All regions of the state have now moved to tier two, officials said.

“With all regions of Illinois now out of tier three, we can now see that the entire state is headed down the right path,” state health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in announcing the change.

St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern lauded the news, but urged caution. “We will continue to advocate to our residents to mask up, wash their hands, and stay safe so we can continue to increase capacity at our hospitals and reduce our positivity rates,” he said in the statement.

Easing restrictions requires each region to meet positivity rate and ICU capacity benchmarks, plus show a decline in the number of COVID-19 patients.

In tier two, recreation and sporting facilities are limited to 25 guests or 25% capacity, whichever is less, and groups of 10 or fewer are allowed. Indoor dining is still not permitted at bars and restaurants.

Edwardsville officials said they will reopen city-owned buildings including the library and City Hall. Masks will still be required, as will enhanced hand hygiene and other measures.

On Monday, phase 1B of the state’s vaccine distribution plan will also begin, meaning more than 3.2 million people who are over 65 or are “frontline essential workers” will now be eligible for the vaccine. That category includes first responders, teachers, grocery store workers, prison inmates and guards, and others. Gov. J.B. Pritzker said some of those workers have already been vaccinated, but did not provide any numbers.

Pritzker on Friday said that National Guard teams have opened six vaccination sites in Cook County, with roughly 25 more expected around the state in the next three weeks, including one planned for St. Clair County. Pharmacies will also begin administering the vaccine.

Preregistration will be required, with Pritzker saying “a completely inadequate national supply” of vaccines will limit availability.

Pritzker, a Democrat, praised the proposals by President Joe Biden’s administration to improve vaccine production and distribution. “It finally feels like help is on the way,” he said.

But he faulted the effort to vaccinate residents of long-term care facilities, explaining that 524,000 doses have been set aside and only 94,000 have been given to them. He said the pace should improve in coming weeks.

About half of the 1.2 million doses of vaccine sent to Illinois have been administered, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

Illinois reported 7,042 new COVID-19 cases and 95 new deaths Friday, for a total of 1,093,375 cases and 18,615 deaths.

Robert Patrick • 314-340-8131 @rxpatrick on Twitter RPatrick@post-dispatch.com

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