As COVID-19 levels continue to retreat, so do the accompanying restrictions and mitigation measures from the State of Illinois.
The Illinois Department of Public Health announced on Friday, Jan. 22, that Region 10, which includes New Trier Township, is on pace to move from Tier 2 to Tier 1 — which allows for limited indoor dining, among other activities — as soon as Saturday, Jan. 23.
The region needs one more day at a sub-8-percent positivity rate to meet all the conditions to move tiers. It has already met the criteria for ICU-bed availability (three straight days of plus 20%) and hospitalizations (decrease in patients for 7 of 10 days).
The state’s top doctor, Dr. Ngozi Ezike warned in a press release that mitigation levels are fickle and can change in the other direction if COVID-19 metrics rise.
“During the summer, we were on this same path,” she said. “We know that we must continue to take precautions and be smart about how we relax some of the mitigation measures, which are in place to protect our health and safety.”
Positivity rate, which is measured with a seven-day average, has been falling in the region since Jan. 5, when it hit a high of 10.6 percent. The past two recorded marks were 7.9 percent on Jan. 18 and 7.7 percent on Jan. 19, according to state data.
Tier 1 mitigations include indoor dining service at 25 percent, as well as normal capacity levels for hotels, fitness classes and group recreation. Indoor meetings and events move from a 10-person limit to 25.
When indoor dining returns, residents should not expect every restaurant to open its doors immediately.
Chikako Eickbush, owner of Torino Ramen in Wilmette, said she needs time to speak with, train and, in some cases, rehire members of her staff.
Eickbush wants to be sure she is following state and local guidelines, as well, for the wellbeing of her team and customers.
“We need time to really be prepared,” she said, adding Torino is open for carryout services. “It will probably happen soon. We’re just not quite there. And when we reopen, we will be very, very careful.”
In nearby Winnetka, some restaurants are eager to reopen indoor seating.
Mark Salmon, the owner of 501 Local, told The Record that the restaurant is “ready to go” and will welcome indoor guests when restrictions are lifted.
“We’re going to take it day by day and we’re going to follow all the guidelines,” he said. “It’s exciting, but we’re not going to get too crazy because (restrictions could come back). … We just want to make sure that we follow all the protocols.”
What’s Phase 4?
Just this week, New Trier Township and Region 10 moved from Tier 3 to Tier 2. After a move to Tier 1 occurs, possibly by Saturday, Jan. 23, the next step is into Phase 4.
To move to that level, a region must record three straight days of sub-6.5% positivity and maintain plus-20% ICU-bed capacity and sustained decreases in hospitalizations.
The region was at a recent high of 10.4 percent positivity and fell below 9.5 percent in six days. Then it took five days to fall below 8.5 percent and four days to reach around 7.5 percent.
In Phase 4, many activities can resume without limitations and indoor dining restrictions are again loosened.
In a press conference Friday, Jan. 22, Ezike told reporters that “all sports” could return to action in Phase 4, a change from previous limitations that required higher-risk sports (like basketball and football) to observe practices but no games.
According to the state’s website, amid Phase 4, all sports are allowed to compete against other schools but only lower-risk sports are allowed to compete against teams out of conference and in “championship” games.
Additionally, all participants must where a facial mask during competitive activity, the state says.
Currently, there is no published sports guidance for mitigation levels higher than Phase 4.
On Twitter, the IHSA said it would soon release more information on what they called a “new All-Sports Policy” from the state.
The change provides a more accessible path for basketball and football to compete this school year.
“It’s great. I mean, I love it for our kids,” said John Holecek, Loyola Academy’s head football coach. “… I’m please the kids are going to get back to sports and what they identify with.”
Holecek also immediately started thinking about the logistical issues ahead, as schools like Loyola try to organize and schedule numerous sports during cold-weather months.
Editor’s note: This article was updated Saturday, Jan. 23.