llinois health officials announced 147 additional deaths and 2,388 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. That brings the statewide total to 100,418, including 4,525 deaths.
Within the past 24 hours, laboratories have reported 21,029 specimens for a total of 642,713. As of Wednesday, the statewide seven-day rolling positivity rate is 14 percent.
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After weeks of pressure and calls for modifications to his stay-at-home order that leaders in many parts of the state thought were too restrictive, Gov. JB Pritzker announced some significant changes Wednesday, with restaurants as the biggest beneficiary.
WATCH: Illinois restaurants allowed to reopen for outdoor dining soon
With restaurants struggling and only being able to offer takeout or delivery, the governor is now easing rules to allow for outdoor seating when the state is expected to move into Phase 3 on May 29. Tables will have to be kept six feet apart and away from sidewalks and staff will have to wear masks.
"The experts believe that these services can open at a risk comparable to other outdoor activities and give our hospitality industry a much-needed boost," Gov. Pritzker said.
"Today's announcement, provides a glimmer of light at the end of this very dark tunnel," said Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association.
Restaurants are reporting an 80% drop in revenue, 45% of workers have been laid off, and 25% of restaurants and bars may close permanently.
Chicago and some suburbs have already been discussing turning streets into dining areas.
"Let's close down streets. Let's expand sidewalk cafes. Let's use parking lots and public ways," Toia said. "Let's show the world how innovative Illinois can be."
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Gov. Pritzker also announced said all state parks will reopen on May 29 and outdoor activities with groups of up to 10 people can resume, including boating and camping. Illinois will also allow the reopening of indoor and outdoor tennis facilities, and golf courses will be able to accommodate foursomes at the same tee time.
The governor said he's also looking at lifting restrictions on other outdoor recreation businesses, such as golf driving ranges and outdoor shooting ranges.
You can read Gov. Pritzker's full list of changes to Phase 3 of his "Restore Illinois" plan at the bottom of this article.
Additionally, Gov. Pritzker shared good news for recipients of SNAP food assistance benefits on Wednesday. More than 1.8 million Illinois residents will soon be able to use their SNAP card to purchase groceries online.
Gov. Pritzker said the federal government has approved the plan and Walmart and Amazon have already agreed to accept online orders from Illinois SNAP users.
Access will begin June 2 without any additional action needed from users, Pritzker said. Link cardholders will receive an alert when their card is ready to use.
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And Illinois Dept. of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike shared positive news on another critical metric: the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois has fallen below 4,000.
Dr. Ezike reported 3,914 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois and of those, 1,005 are in the ICU and 554 are on ventilators.
"This is the lowest number since we were capturing these numbers that we have had for COVID patients in the hospital," Dr. Ezike said.
WATCH: State rep removed from session for refusing to wear mask
Illinois state lawmakers began a special session Wednesday, with Republican leaders set to take action on Governor JB Pritzker's stay-at-home order. Lawmakers have been absent from Springfield since early March.
In Springfield, Gov. Pritzker was greeted by protesters who demonstrated outside the convention center where House members were meeting. They then marched to the state capitol where the Senate returned to session.
One of the first orders of business for the House was passing rules requiring members to wear masks. But State Representative Darren Bailey, who sued Gov. Pritzker over his stay-at-home order, refused to wear one. The drama prompted the House to vote to have him removed from the chamber.
The governor said while he would like to see ethics reform and property tax relief happen this session, three days requires a short priority list.
"In particular, the number one concern is the budget and the number two concern is a COVID relief package, because we've got to help people across the state," Pritzker said.
Also Wednesday, the Governor agreed to repeal his controversial order that would have charged businesses with a misdemeanor if they opened in violation of his stay-a- home order. However, he plans to push for legislation to make it a civil violation with fines, but no jail time.
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Meanwhile, there are some lawmakers who want to have more of a say on the phased economic reopening of the state. They want it based on a smaller and more specific regional basis.
Several Republicans called for a vote on the "Restore Illinois" plan, saying that legislators should be able to represent their constituents in this.
"We believe that the General Assembly should take an up or down vote on the governor's Restore Illinois plan," said State Representative Tim Butler (R, Springfield).
"We need a much more localized approach that will be based on data with decisions made by local officials," said Deputy House Republican Leader Dan Brady (R, Bloomington).
Urging the entire state to stay the course, the governor said he once again relied on science as he invited two infectious disease doctors to help him make his case.
"Our transmission balance is tenuous, and business as usual could set off another wave of infections that threaten our lives and our livelihoods," said Dr. Emily Landon, with University of Chicago Medicine.
Dr. Richard Novak from the University of Illinois Health System said nationwide vaccine trials are expected to begin this summer, including in Illinois, and he encouraged people to volunteer.
He believes all four regions of the state including Cook County and Chicago are on track to move into Phase Three of his reopening plan on May 29.
In the Northeast region, hospital admissions are down nearly 42 percent since May 1 and the test positivity rate falling more than 5 percent in the last 14 days.
READ: GOV. PRITZKER'S UPDATES TO PHASE 3 OF 'RESTORE ILLINOIS' 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.
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.