*NOTE: This letter was published as an accompaniment to Governor Pritzker’s Restore Illinois Plan upon its release on May 5, 2020.
From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois’ response has been guided by data, science, and public health experts. As community spread rapidly increased, Governor Pritzker moved quickly to issue a Disaster Proclamation on March 9, restrict visitors to nursing homes on March 11, close bars and restaurants for on-site consumption on March 16, move schools to remote learning on March 17, and issue a Stay at Home order on March 21. This virus has caused painful, cascading consequences for everyone in Illinois, but the science is clear: until we have a safe and effective vaccine that we can distribute to all Illinoisans, wearing a face covering, maintaining a 6-foot social distance, and routine hand washing have proven to be the most effective tools to reduce the spread and save lives.
However, across the state, all of our regions are currently seeing an increase in cases and the majority are seeing far higher rates of hospitalizations for COVID-19 compared to the spring. As the weather turns cooler and more activity is driven inside, experts and epidemiologists warn that without proper mitigation measures, the trajectory could continue to worsen. The risk of community spread remains, and modeling and data indicate a rapid surge in new cases if all mitigation measures were to be immediately lifted. A full list of mitigation measures may be found on the DCEO website.
We are working toward a common goal: To ensure the health and safety of all residents. Research has given us much more information about how to monitor and address the virus than we had earlier in the year, and because of that research, hospitals are able to improve outcomes for those battling COVID-19. The same goes for individual action: we now know that COVID-19 primarily spreads through respiratory droplets with person-to-person contact. The actions of individuals matter, and if we all wear face coverings, keep our distance outside our household, and wash our hands frequently, we can reduce transmission enough to bring our numbers down, making it safer to visit our small businesses and send more of our children and teachers into the classroom.
Restore Illinois is about saving lives and livelihoods. This five-phased plan will reopen our state, guided by health metrics and with distinct business, education, and recreation activities characterizing each phase. This framework will likely be updated as research and science develop and as the potential for treatments or vaccines is realized. The plan is based upon regional healthcare availability, and it recognizes the distinct impact COVID-19 has had on different regions of our state as well as regional variations in hospital capacity. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has 11 Emergency Medical Services Regions that have traditionally guided its statewide public health work and will continue to inform this reopening plan. You can track the metrics for each of the 11 regions by visiting the IDPH website: https://www.dph.illinois.gov/regionmetrics.
The Resurgence Mitigation Plan was announced on July 15, 2020, taking a regional approach to suppress the spread of the virus. After a wave of COVID-19 surged across Illinois and the nation last fall, all 11 of the Restore Illinois regions moved into Tier 3 mitigations on November 20, 2020. By adhering to meaningful mitigations throughout the holiday season, the state was able to bring down rates of community spread, allowing for regions to once again move forward in the state's mitigations plan. On January 15, 2021, regions resumed moving out of Tier 3 mitigations, down to Tier 2 and Tier 1, and ultimately back into Phase 4 of Restore Illinois on a data-driven basis.