By Grace Barbic
Capitol News Illinois
Statewide Tier 3 COVID-19 mitigations could be lifted within 10 days.
Starting Jan. 15, exactly one incubation period from New Year’s Day, any region that has met requirements for a reduction of mitigations will be able to move out of the Tier 3 mitigation plan, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday.
“I’m cautiously optimistic as there are some early signs indicating that some regions have made real progress and won’t reverse that progress this week or next,” Pritzker said.
The entire state has been under Tier 3 restrictions since Nov. 20 in an effort to combat a potential holiday surge in cases. Under these increased restrictions businesses are required to follow 25 percent capacity limits, and close bars and restaurants to indoor service – a mitigation that will still be in place even when a region moves back to Tier 2.
Pritzker said that despite not seeing a post-Thanksgiving surge, he is still advising Tier 3 restrictions be upheld for one incubation period, or 14 days, to ensure infection rates remain as low as possible.
After Jan. 15, regions will be able proceed past Tier 2, which would allow restaurants and bars to reopen for indoor service, depending on their future infection and hospitalization rates.
Because of high demand for the COVID-19 vaccine, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended two initial priority groups receive the first rounds of vaccination.
Those in Phase 1A, who are currently receiving vaccines, include healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
Phase 1B will include Illinois residents age 65 years or older and non-health care frontline essential workers. ACIP recommended residents 75 years or older be prioritized, but Illinois reduced the age by 10 years. Pritzker noted the average age of COVID-19 deaths is 81 for white residents, 72 for Black residents and 68 for Latino residents.
Phase 1B will begin once Phase 1A is substantially complete, but a specific time period is not yet clear. Pritzker said that many healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents are still in the process of receiving the vaccine and a decrease in federal vaccine distribution could delay the move to the next phase.
The increase in federal vaccine distribution relies heavily on whether the Biden administration will implement the Defense Production Act. President Donald Trump invoked this Cold War-era law in response to the pandemic which gave him emergency authority to control domestic industries.
The Defense Production Act was most recently used to prevent the hoarding of supplies, limit the export of medical goods like personal protective equipment and increase the production of critical supplies. Pritzker anticipates that there will be a significant increase in vaccine distribution once the DPA is invoked.
The state reported another 139 COVID-19-related deaths Wednesday as the confirmed death count in Illinois from the virus rose to 17,096.
Hospitalizations and positivity rates for COVID remained roughly level from the previous day, with the seven-day rolling average case positivity rate falling to 8.4 percent, decreasing for the second straight day.
As of Tuesday night, 3,928 individuals were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois, an increase of 23 from the day prior. There were 812 individuals in intensive care unit beds, an increase of 12 from the day before, and 451 individuals on ventilators, a decrease of six from Monday night.
The hospitalization numbers appeared to be leveling, with 27 percent of beds available statewide, 22 percent of ICU beds available and 73 percent of ventilators.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.