CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Thursday that Chicago will advance to the next phase of reopening amidst the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday, June 3.
“On Wednesday, June 3 the City of Chicago will be taking our first step into Phase 3 of our reopening process by allowing many of our businesses and city areas to partially reopen to the public,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot praised officials, essential workers and ordinary Chicagoans who “did their part by simply staying home and saving lives.”
Under “Phase 3” of reopening, a wide range of businesses can open their doors with capacity restrictions and other preventative measures in place. This includes office-based jobs, hotels, childcare facilities and in-home daycares.
Restaurants and coffee shops can allow outdoor dining, and personal services like barbershops, salons and tattoo parlors can also reopen with certain measures in place.
While buses and trains have continued to run in Chicago throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Lightfoot said businesses will need to stagger their start and end times in order to keep transit services from becoming overwhelmed as people return to work.
City services including libraries and park facilities will also reopen on June 8, Lightfoot said.
“Our hope is that during Phase 3 we will be able to begin reopening other parts of our city including summer programs, youth activities, religious services, gyms, and yes – our lakefront and beaches,” Lightfoot said. “But we’ll have to wait and see how these initial first steps go.”
Watch Above: Mayor Lori Lightfoot discusses plans to move Chicago on to “Phase 3” of reopening amidst the coronavirus pandemic
Even as the city begins to reopen, Lightfoot said a new outbreak of COVID-19 could prompt Chicago to move back to Phase 2.
“COVID-19 is still very much part of our present,” Lightfoot said. “The best we can do – and really the best that you can do – is continue following the public health guidance around social distancing, hand sanitizing, and please – wear a mask in public.”
Prior to Thursday’s announcement, reopening plans released by the City indicated it would likely move on to Phase 3 sometime in “early June.” New guidelines released Wednesday are stricter than those set by the State of Illinois in its “Restore Illinois” plan.
For instance, office settings will be limited to 25 percent capacity, and while restaurants can reopen with outdoor seating, they will still need to purchase permits to do so. Health screenings are also required for children to enter the classroom.
How does the City decide when to move on to “Phase 3?”
The City lays out the criteria for moving on to the next phase of reopening on its website, but it’s based generally on the number of new COVID-19 cases, capacity for testing and contact tracing, support for vulnerable residents and availability of hospital resources.
As of Thursday, two metrics appear to fall short of the City’s guidelines in order to move on to Phase 3 at the end of May: the testing positivity rate and contact tracing capacity. However, both are heading in the right direction.
To move on to the next phase of reopening, the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests in Chicago needs to stay below 15 percent, according to the city. As of Thursday, that positivity rate came in at 16.2 percent, but it is declining.
Case rates measured on a 14-day rolling average have been trending down since a peak on May 8, but there was a slight uptick within the past week.
Insofar as the northeast region including Chicago and surrounding counties is concerned, cases have been on the decline as well. According to the State of Illinois, the positivity rate in the region dropped by 4.8 percent over the past 14 days to 14.3 percent.
The City has also rolled out new programs in recent weeks to meet its own criteria for supporting vulnerable populations and ramping up contact tracing.
On Tuesday, Lightfoot announced the city will give out $56 million in grants for local groups to hire 600 new contact tracers. Other measures have expanded mental health services and created task forces to spark economic development citywide and in under-resourced communities.
When it comes to testing, the City set a goal of enough tests to equal the population of Chicago over a month, or about 4,500 tests a day. Based on a 7-day rolling average, the city has exceeded that amount for over a week.
Finally, as far as hospital resources are concerned it seems social distancing and stay-at-home measures have been successful in “bending the curve” statewide and in Chicago, preventing the healthcare system from being overwhelmed.
Since May 22, the City has reported a declining number of COVID-19 patients and a sufficient amount of available hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators to meet criteria for moving on to Phase 3.
What will “Phase 3” look like in Chicago?
The City of Chicago has its own guidelines for what “Phase 3” of reopening will look like in the city.
Generally speaking, most “non-essential” businesses, nonprofits and government offices can reopen so long as they put certain protections in place.
“Non-business” gatherings of 10 or fewer people will be officially permitted, but the City still advises people to observe social distancing and wear a face covering while they’re together.
Masks will be required in all common areas, including in outdoor parks and newly-reopened stores. Diners eating outdoors will be allowed to remove their masks while they’re seated, but staff members will be required to wear them at all times.