Illinois officials announced Monday that the state will move this week to the next phase of reopening, allowing indoor dining at restaurants and for businesses like gyms, youth camps, movie theaters and museums to resume operations.
All areas of the state on Friday will enter Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s coronavirus pandemic reopening plan after meeting targets showing no significant increases in COVID-19 metrics, including deaths, hospitalizations and in rates of positive tests.
The move toward reopening came as Missouri health officials are contending with a spike in COVID-19 cases in rural parts of the state.
Phase 4 in Illinois will also increase limits on gatherings to 50 people from the current 10, depending on the size of the space, allowing for larger meetings, weddings and funerals.
Masks and social distancing should continue in public throughout the state, according to the plan.
For indoor dining, capacity is limited to 25% with no more than 10 people in a group and tables spaced at least six feet apart.
For businesses like Papa Vito’s pizzeria, which has four locations in the Metro East, the new phase is a welcome change, said the family restaurant’s president, Jamie Geoppo.
“One of the good things for us is that even in a pandemic, everybody wants pizza,” Geoppo said. “But being closed for dine-in has definitely affected us, you kind of have to mark off about 10% of your menu because in take-out you sell a lot less desserts and beverages.”
Geoppo said he expects at least the downtown Belleville Papa Vito’s location to reopen its dining room Friday, with the other locations to soon follow.
“We’ve had people calling up asking when we’ll fully open and reading the ‘Closed for dining’ sign outside and hanging their head a bit, so I think there’ll be people wanting to come,” Geoppo said. “I just want to remind people that they’ll need some patience and understanding. I hope they remember that everybody is working hard, but it’s going to be new for all of us.”
Owners of other businesses, like the historic Lincoln Theatre in downtown Belleville, may wait to reopen, owner Dave Schoenborn said.
“We’ll see how the first week or so goes,” said Schoenborn, who was still reviewing the state’s reopening plan Monday. “We’re trying to figure out the best timing: Just because you can reopen doesn’t necessarily mean you should.”
Schoenborn said he does plan to reopen the theater this summer and is closely watching movie release dates, which have often been pushed back. In the meantime, he’s installed contactless payment, order-ahead concessions and an online ticket system that blocks out seats for social distancing.
Obstacles remain, though. Limits of 50 people per theater are just a fraction of available seat space and the theater is trying now to buy enough cleaning supplies to last, Shoenborn said.
“We’re in a unique business and it’s going to be closed longer than most places,” Shoenborn said. “And we just want to reopen the right way.”
Event spaces, gyms and indoor recreation facilities will be allowed to reach 50% of their building capacity, while museums, zoos and outdoor spectator events, including sports, can resume at 20% or 25% capacity. Concessions at sporting events will be allowed to resume with some restrictions.
Day camps will be allowed to have no more than 15 people in a group and can resume water activities, according to the plan. The state told county governments it expects to release detailed guidance on pools later this week, Bryan Whitaker, assistant director of St. Clair County’s Emergency Management Agency, said during a Monday briefing.
Pritzker’s office estimated that bringing the state into Phase 4 would bring about 400,000 people back into the workplace, accounting for about 7% of the state’s workforce. The governor’s office estimated the phase will return about $30 billion in annual gross domestic product to the state.
“Science and data are the overarching guardrails for how Illinois will keep moving forward,” Pritzker said in a statement. “By continuing to wear face coverings and following the guidance from health experts we can continue to safely reopen our economy and move forward together.”
Illinois reported 462 new coronavirus cases Monday, the lowest daily increase in the state since late March. The state has had 137,224 confirmed cases and 6,671 deaths from the disease since the start of the pandemic. Key metrics tracking the virus have improved in Illinois this month, including the seven-day average rate of positive COVID-19 tests, which had fallen by Saturday to 2.5%, down from about 7% when most of Illinois entered Phase 3 at the end of May.
Despite the falling numbers and easing restrictions, St. Clair County Chairman Mark Kern advised residents to keep wearing masks in public and remain cautious.
“Let’s keep our numbers low,” he said. “Let’s not follow the lead of Arizona and Florida where now they’re having to see big spikes and go back on the phases.”
The next phase of the state’s reopening plan — Phase 5, or “Illinois Restored” — will lift most restrictions, allowing for gatherings of any size, including large events and festivals, and all businesses to resume without capacity limits. The state will enter that phase when either a vaccine or treatment options are widely available or there are no new cases for a sustained period and health care capacity is no longer a concern.
A surge in cases could also make areas of Illinois return to earlier phases of the plan, with restrictions reimposed.
Across the Mississippi River in Missouri on Monday, the state continued to see the biggest increases in cases in Southwest Missouri, adding 140 cases and five additional deaths statewide. There have been 18,143 cases and 961 deaths confirmed in Missouri since the start of the pandemic.
Within the last week, cases in McDonald County, which borders Oklahoma and Arkansas, spiked to 473 from 128. Nearby Newton County’s cases increased in that same time to 279 from 110. Jasper County in the same area went from 115 to 221 confirmed cases.
Joplin, Missouri, which spans both Newton and Jasper counties, has the second highest average growth rate of cases in the country, according to The New York Times.
Lisa Cox, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, on Monday didn’t specify the reason for the surge in cases in the area, but said the state hoped to release more information Tuesday about the outbreak in Joplin and surrounding communities.
The Joplin Globe reported Saturday that workers at the Tyson Foods meat processing plant in Noel in McDonald County would undergo mass testing.
The same increases have not been seen in the St. Louis area, where the seven-day average of hospitalizations for confirmed or suspected COVID-19 fell by almost 20 to 233 Monday, according to the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. Hospitalizations peaked in the area in mid-April at 757.
But St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said she’s monitoring increases in cases in more rural areas of the state for effects they may have on the metro area.
”We are a little bit concerned,” the mayor said during a Monday briefing, “that in a lot of new cases in outstate Missouri that a lot of those folks will rely on our regional hospital system and may become hospitalized here.”
Bryce Gray of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.