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Coping with COVID: Phase 4 brings shutdown relief, caution

Illinois enters Phase 4, and it might take some time to get to the next phase. H-F Park District reopens playgrounds. Closest state testing site moves to South Holland. COVID-19 numbers remain good. Case numbers in other states are on the rise again. 

The long phase. On Thursday, June 25, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the state would enter Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan starting the next day after one month in Phase 3. Phase 4 means the state’s economy can reopen across the board — but all businesses and social gatherings remain limited, subject to social distancing and capacity limits to help keep the spread of COVID-19 in check.

Phase 4 could be in place for some time. Moving into Phase 5, which allows the closest approximation to pre-pandemic activity, requires an available vaccine, effective treatment or a period of no additional cases. So far, none of those conditions is expected in the immediate future. 

Even when Phase 5 is reached, the plan calls for “new health and hygiene practices permanently in place.” 

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Local, state numbers remain good. Illinois passed the peak of the COVID-19 spread in mid-May. Since then, key statistics steadily improved. During the third week in May, the state averaged 99 deaths per day. During the third week of June, the average was about 49 per day. 

Testing has continue to increase, averaging more than 22,800 during the third week of May and more than 24,000 in the third week of June. On Friday, the state took more than 30,000 specimens for the first time. The rates of positive results have fallen, too. The rolling seven-day average dipped below 10 percent in late May and for the past two weeks has hovered between 2 and 3 percent.

Cases have been under 1,000 per day since early June after hitting a peak of more than 4,000 on May 12. 

Local numbers also have been stable in recent weeks. At the end of April, Homewood had 154 cases. A month later, the number had risen by 107 to 261, and as of June 28, the number was at 291, an increase of 30. Flossmoor’s trajectory was similar, with 55 cases at the end of April, 75 at the end of May and 84 on June 28. 

Cautionary tale. The news is less good from states that reopened their economies sooner and more aggressively. Arizona, Texas, Florida, South Carolina and a number of other states are seeing case numbers rebound. Illinois health officials say the state’s stay-at-home and social distancing requirements are the reason the state has not followed suit, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker cautioned on Thursday that if Phase 4 activity results in significant increases in cases, the state could return to more stringent measures. 

Playgrounds reopen. The Homewood-Flossmoor Park District announced Saturday morning that its playgrounds have been reopened after being off-limits for about three months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

District officials urge patrons to “remain vigilant in your efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Playground equipment, picnic tables and benches are not cleaned or sanitized. Users should evaluate whether they are comfortable using public equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. When using HFPD parks, please maintain social distancing and wear face coverings when within six feet of other people. Public gatherings are limited to 50 people.”

Face coverings are working. In the beginning of the pandemic, health officials did not encourage the use of face coverings. Early in April, the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued recommendations urging the use of face coverings. Research conducted recently supports the effectiveness of face coverings to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Our analysis indicates that face covering reduced the number of infections by over 78,000 in Italy from April 6 to May 9 and by over 66,000 in NYC from April 17 to May 9,” study authors said.

COVID-19 testing site in South Holland. The former testing site in Markham has returned to service as a motor vehicle emissions testing site, so free COVID-19 testing is now available at South Surburban College, 15800 State St., South Holland, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. while supplies last. 

Getting the word out: Schools may have been shut down, but the Homewood Science Center used lunch pick-ups as the perfect way to get the word out about the importance of the U.S. Census. In April and May, the center distributed about 1,000 flyers each month through the lunch pick-ups in school districts in surrounding communities. The Homewood Science Center partnered with the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus on the project.

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