Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and public health officials have announced renewed restrictions for the state’s Metro East region, due to three consecutive days of a COVID-19 positivity over 8%. Positivity rate is one of the metrics that can trigger new mitigations if an area is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Under the new restrictions in Region 4, gatherings are limited to 25 people or 25% of overall room capacity, whichever is lower. The rest of the state is currently operating under guidelines for Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois reopening plan, which allows gatherings of up to 50 people. The counties affected by the new restrictions are Bond, Clinton, Madison, Monroe, Randolph, St. Clair, and Washington.
In late May, Pritzker relaxed restrictions on church gatherings and introduced guidance for houses of worship from the Illinois Department of Public Health. The guidance encouraged churches to follow current statewide gathering limits, but also recommended capacity limits in instances where the limit cannot be followed. Many IBSA churches are currently holding multiple smaller services to allow for social distancing, and streaming services online for worshipers at home.
At a press conference Aug. 17 in East St. Louis, Pritzker made no specific statements about churches. Most of the renewed restrictions in Region 4 relate to restaurants and bars, which will close at 11 p.m., mirroring the closing time observed by similar establishments across the river in St. Louis. Barstools have been removed to discourage congregating inside, dining parties are limited to six, and reservations are required.
“This is about preserving the people and the places that we love,” Pritzker said, “and we need all our residents to take this seriously and to protect ourselves and each other.”
The governor said more stringent mitigations will go into effect if the positivity rate continues to climb over the next 14 days. If, however, the average positivity rate falls below 6.5%, he said, the region will move back into Phase 4 of the reopening plan.
Other regions in the state’s reopening plan have seen surges of COVID-19, including southern Illinois. Chicago and surrounding counties were the state’s hot spot for the first months of the pandemic, but as cases increase in other regions of the state, some churches have taken cautionary measures. First Baptist Church in Grayville met in person in June and July, said Pastor David Smith, but moved back to drive-in services when their town experienced an outbreak of COVID-19.
Currently, the state’s highest testing positivity rates outside of the Metro East are in the southern region and Kane and Will Counties south of Chicago.