Pritzker touts Illinois reopening as other states backtrack

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Illinois residents will be able to go to work, exercise at the gym, dine indoors at a restaurant and see a movie at the theater starting Friday as the state moves further into resuming some semblance of normal living during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday that the state is progressing much more quickly than expected into the fourth phase of his five-part Restore Illinois program in response to the coronavirus, a vaccination for which is still at least several months away.

Bars and restaurants, shut down in mid-March, may return to long-awaited indoor service provided they maintain social distancing, require face coverings and observe other safety protocols, Fitness centers and movie theaters may reopen, schools and day care centers may resume operations. People are free to return to traditional workplaces.

Pritzker and his state public health director, Dr. Ngoze Ezike, congratulated Illinois residents for following efforts to stymie the highly contagious virus, particularly at a time when other states are seeing new surges in the virus, critics say because they reopened their economies too quickly or too aggressively.

“We’ve seen what’s happened in other states that have allowed politics, more short-term thinking, to drive decision-making,” Pritzker said. “Many other states are now seeing significant increases in cases, hospitalizations and intensive-care bed usage. And they’re being forced to move backwards and stay at home. That’s not the story in Illinois.”

The Illinois caseload has dropped continuously since the Democrat lifted a 10-week stay-at-home order last month. Pritzker quoted statistics indicating that daily deaths are down 65% from a high six weeks ago and despite more testing for the virus, new-case detection has dropped 76% in the past seven weeks.

Deaths related to COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, totaled 6,810 as of Thursday. They were on a pace this week to drop 21% from a week ago.

But Ezike also reported on Thursday 894 newly diagnosed cases, the highest one-day jump in 2 1/2 weeks, and at the current rate, there will be 4,662 cases this week, a 10 percent jump from a week ago and the first weekly increase in new infections since early May.

Although bars and restaurants will be open, a popular feature in many of them – video gambling terminals – will remain off-limits until next week. The Illinois Gaming Board announced that the state’s riverboat casinos and video gambling will resume operation on July 1.

Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter said in a statement that the board had worked with various Pritzker administration agencies and the casino and video gambling industries to “develop a gaming resumption process that protects the public health of patrons and employees, while restarting gaming activities in meaningful way.”

Also Thursday, the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund, which accepts donations to aid service organizations hard hit by the outbreak, announced that it had made its fourth distribution of money, bringing the total provided to $23.7 million to 87 different organizations.

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Online

New Restore Illinois guidelines: https://bit.ly/31hTwE7

Weekly totals of COVID-19 cases and deaths: https://bit.ly/31u2PRx

Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund: https://bit.ly/2CCet21

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Check out more of the AP’s coronavirus coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

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