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Illinois Announces Phased Reopening And Its Largest Daily COVID-19 Death Toll

A man rides his bicycle in Gurnee, Ill., this past weekend. Officials say safe practices against the coronavirus need to continue if the state is to be successful with its phased reopening plan.
Nam Y. Huh
A man rides his bicycle in Gurnee, Ill., this past weekend. Officials say safe practices against the coronavirus need to continue if the state is to be successful with its phased reopening plan.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Tuesday his five-phase reopening plan, while the state saw its highest daily death toll from COVID-19.

Over the previous 24 hours, 176 residents died, said Illinois Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike, who joined the governor at his daily briefing. That brings the number of deaths in the state to more than 3,800.

Ezike said the situation could have been even more dire if the governor hadn't extended his stay-at-home executive order to May 29. She also credited residents paying heed to social distancing, wearing face masks and finding other, safer ways to connect with each other. But the threat continues.

"The truth is we are still in a significant war with an enemy," she said, adding that because the coronavirus can't be seen, some may underestimate it.

"If this was a traditional war with soldiers outside of our doors and people risking their lives to be outside of their homes," Ezike said, "no one would think about the need to go to work or get their dog groomed or their car washed."

Finding a way back to normalcy will take time, said Pritzker, adding that that can't happen until there's a vaccine, an effective treatment or widespread immunity.

Pritzker outlined his plan for slowly reopening the state, called "Restore Illinois." It divides the state into four regions, acknowledging that each section may have distinct needs and conditions. That means the areas could move through the five phases at different times if health data for that region show declines in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

Most of the state is already in the first two phases, with the initial shutdown of all but essential businesses and social distancing guidelines. Because the overall rate of infection is slowing, that has allowed Phase 2 to kick in. Some nonessential retail outlets can reopen, offering curbside pickup and delivery. Residents also are directed to wear face masks when outside.

Phase 3 will allow more outlets, including barbershops and salons, to reopen under certain capacity and safety limits, with groups of 10 people or fewer being able to meet.

As hospitalizations and cases continue to decline, Phase 4 kicks in. Schools, restaurants and day care centers can open with guidance from the state's health department and gatherings of 50 or fewer will be allowed.

Until there's a vaccine or widespread treatment though, Illinois will not reach Stage 5 — a full resumption of its economy.

Pritzker said it brings him no joy, but that means no conventions, festivals or large events for now. He says he won't risk overwhelming the state's hospital system and opening the door to potentially tens of thousands more deaths.

As scientists learn more about COVID-19, the plan could also change, he said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.

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