Coronavirus Illinois: COVID-19 cases top 105K with over 4K deaths; IL churches can hold services under new guidelines in Phase 3, Pritzker says

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced new guidelines for churches and other houses of worship Friday as the entire state remains on track to move into Phase 3 of his Restore Illinois plan one week from now.

Coronavirus in Illinois: Latest news on COVID-19 cases, Chicago area impact

lllinois health officials announced 110 additional deaths and 2,758 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. That brings the statewide total to 105,444, including 4,715 deaths.
Within the past 24 hours, laboratories have reported 25,113 specimens for a total of 697,133. The state reported its seven-day rolling positivity rate dropped a percentage point on Friday to 13%.

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Watch Gov. JB Pritzker and Dr. Ngozi Ezike's daily COVID-19 update on May 22, 2020.

Gov. Pritzker's new guidelines came as President Donald Trump declared houses of worship essential on Friday and threatened to override governors if they aren't allowed to reopen this weekend.

"We're going to continue to operate on the basis of science and data, and I'm as anxious as anybody to make sure that our churches, our mosques, our synagogues open back to where they were before COVID-19 came along," Pritzker said.

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Last Sunday, the city issued three citations to churches that conducted services in defiance. But now, they have the support of the president.

Gov. Pritzker responded to President Trump's action to deem houses of worship and their gatherings essential.

"The governors need to do the right thing and allow these essential places of faith to reopen, right now, for this weekend," President Trump said. "If they don't do it, I will override the governors."

"Look, the president is running for re-election," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. "He's pandering to a base and I think we have to recognize that virtually everything he says has a political undertone in basis for it."

Their war of words follows weeks of litigation involving at least two Chicago-area churches and one in western Illinois, which sued but lost for the right to hold large services.

Less than two hours after President Trump's statement, Pritzker said houses of worship in the state can hold outdoor and drive-in services when Phase 3 of the reopening begins on May 29.

"I know worship is as essential as food and water for most of us, and it's my priority to provide guidance to ensure it can proceed safely," Pritzker said.

The governor also announcing plans for the phased reopening of daycare centers in Phase 3. For the first four weeks, those facilities will be limited to 10 children per classroom before being allowed to increase group sizes.

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Some celebrated, some said they will continue to remain closed for the safety of their parishioners, and will open at their own pace.

Churches, mosques and synagogues across Illinois have been sealed off to worshipers since the March 21 stay-at-home order shuttered non-essential operations.

But the rally cry to reopen worship halls has grown louder with pastors unsuccessfully filing a lawsuit against the state.

Last Sunday, the city issued three citations to churches that conducted services in defiance. But now, they have the support of the president.

"You could not get a greater win than having the president of the United States saying that you are right," said Steve Cassell, pastor of Beloved Church.

"I think it's the greatest day in American history," said Pastor Brian Gibson of Peaceably Gather. "I think the president just affirmed what we already knew was true in the Constitution and First Amendment, and I applaud him enough. I cannot be happy enough."

It was not clear how Trump would be able to overrule state orders, and he did not offer any details. Speaking in Springfield Friday afternoon, Gov. Pritzker said he is still calling the shots.

"We do not want parishioners to get ill because their faith leaders bring them together. We hope that faith leaders will continue to do as the vast majority of them have done, which is to worship sometimes online, sometimes in other capacities, as we've talked about outdoor and drive-in," Pritzker said.

Over the weekend, three Chicago churches were forced to pay fines after opening in defiance of the stay-at-home order.

"A church is a spiritual hospital," said Pastor Florin Cimpean of Philadelphia Romanian Church of God. "We have people who have spiritual needs. Emotional needs. And this church is much safer than any other open space, like Home Depot or any other store."

Pastors around the country are coaching churches on how to open safely and still protect their congregations.

"They got to sanitize their hands wherever they come into the sanctuary and just, just being smart," Pastor Gibson said. "Meanwhile, ushers are wearing masks and gloves right now, and they, when we release the people, it's not a mad dash to get through the border. It's funeral or wedding-style, where you're released by the row. We asked the people to go to the car and go home."

"I want to go back to church more than anybody," said Father Michael Pfleger, St. Sabina Church. "I miss church every week. But we gotta have people safe. We're a people of faith, doesn't give into fear."

The Chicago Archdiocese has released its own timetable to reopen churches and indicated Friday it will stick to that timeline. It begins with small in-person services for things like baptisms, weddings and funerals for groups of 10 or less.

But for now, worship hall doors will stay closed until at least May 30.

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Gov. Pritzker defended his decision to keep the suburbs lumped in with Chicago Thursday, saying he has no plans to change the four regions in his reopening plan.


Bars and Restaurants Can Open for Outdoor Seating, All State Parks to Open

Building on a robust, statewide effort to ensure Illinois can safely reopen and following the data, science, and guidance from public health experts and stakeholders across the state, Governor Pritzker announced updates to Phase 3 of the state's Restore Illinois plan.
"We are by no means out of the woods, but directionally, things are getting better. And because of these advances, we are able to make some modifications to allow more activity during Phase 3 of our reopening plan Restore Illinois," said Governor JB Pritzker. "Our mission has always been to get people back to work, get students back to school and return to as much normalcy as possible without jeopardizing the health and safety of Illinoisans."

In the coming days, the state and IDPH will be issuing formal industry-specific guidance, particularly around workplaces and childcare, for business owners and employees in these and other sectors.

Bars and Restaurants

With Phase 3, bars and restaurants will have the option to resume operations for outdoor seating only. Tables must be six feet apart and away from the sidewalks, masks and distancing measures for staff must continue to be followed, and other precautions and guidance will be issued.

These measures will allow restaurants to re-open at a risk comparable to other outdoor activities, while giving the state's hospitality industry a much-needed boost.
Municipalities are encouraged to help restaurants and bars expand their outdoor seating options.

To date, the administration has delivered over $14 million in small business grants averaging $20,000 to 699 bars, restaurants, and hotels across 270 individual cities in Illinois.

Outdoor Activities

With the start of phase 3, all state parks will reopen on May 29. All concession will reopen as well under guidelines set for our retail and food service businesses in Phase 3. Illinois will permit the re-opening of indoor and outdoor tennis facilities with Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) safety precautions and capacity limits.

For golf, in Phase 3, courses can allow foursomes out on the same tee times. Carts will also be permitted with one person per cart, or one immediate household per cart.

With the new ten person gathering limit for all activities in Phase 3, boating or camping with up to ten people will be permitted.

The state will be providing guidance on how other outdoor recreational businesses, such as driving ranges, outdoor shooting ranges, and paintball courses can safely open their doors in Phase 3.

Health Clubs, Retail, and Personal Care Services

In Phase 3, health clubs, gyms, and fitness studios can provide one-on-one personal training in indoor facilities and outdoor fitness classes of up to ten people.

Personal care services, like nail salons, tattoo shops, hair braiders, spas and barbershops, can open with IDPH safety precautions and capacity limits.

And all retail stores can open their doors to in-person shopping with IDPH safety precautions and capacity limits in place.

Local governments retain the right to establish stricter restrictions in any areas.

"The Governor's action to allow for expanded outdoor dining options will benefit many restaurants at a time when every dollar counts and provides a glimmer of light at the end of this long, COVID-19 tunnel. Innovative outdoor dining strategies extend a lifeline - restoring jobs and offering guests the hospitality experience they've been missing while prioritizing public health and safety. Outdoor dining will not help every restaurant, but it is a constructive step in the right direction," said Sam Toia, President & CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association.

"The Allied Golf Associations of Illinois are grateful that we had the opportunity to collaborate with the Governor's office to propose safely lifting some of the restrictions that had been in place for golf. The Phase 3 changes will allow more people to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of the game, and do so in a way that is safe for both golfers and facility staff," said Carrie Williams, Executive Director of the Illinois PGA and Illinois PGA Foundation.

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