Pritzker said stricter Tier 3 rules have been lifted in favor of Tier 2 rules in the central Illinois region that includes Peoria and Bloomington, counties at the southern tip of the state, and counties in northwest Illinois. That means activities such as group fitness classes and gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed, retail businesses will be able to increase capacity limits and museums and other cultural institutions can reopen.
"Of our remaining regions, the data shows that most are on track to leave Tier 3 in the coming days if current trends hold," Pritzker said.
Pritzker also announced some encouraging news for bars and restaurants, saying during a news conference that they can resume limited indoor service sooner than the original rules allowed if the COVID-19 metrics continue to improve. Under the new rules, restaurants will be allowed to resume indoor dining at 25% capacity or a maximum 25 customers if the region hits certain benchmarks, including a seven-day average positivity rate below 8% for three straight days.
All regions of Illinois will now be able to move backwards through Tier 3, Tier 2 and Tier 1. The next stage would be a return to Phase 4 of the state's reopening plan
The eleven regions of Illinois have been under Tier 3 mitigations since Nov. 20. Some of the restrictions have included reduced capacity for outdoor dining, the shutdown of indoor dining and the closure of museums and casinos.
Regions moving to Tier 2 mitigations have met the following metrics:
- Greater than 20% of ICU and hospital beds are available
- Have a test positivity rate less than 12% for three consecutive days
- Have shown declining COVID-19 hospitalizations in seven of the previous 10 days.
Friday's announcement came minutes after officials announced that a more contagious variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in the United Kingdom late last year has been found in Illinois..
Illinois will also move into the next phase of vaccinations on Jan. 25, and will focus on people 65 years and older as well as essential workers.
Gov. Pritzker announced plans to ramp-up vaccination efforts in coordination with the incoming Biden administration.
His goal is to be able to administer vaccines as quickly as the manufacturers can deliver them.
Pritzker says the Illinois National Guard's role will expand dramatically through mobile teams.
"We have nearly two dozen more National Guard teams ready to come online across the state in the weeks ahead as vaccination supply increases," said Pritzker.
Pritzker says this effort, coupled with pharmacies, doctor offices and more employers hosting their own workplace clinics, will lead to a big increase in daily vaccinations.
The Illinois Department of Public Health on Friday reported 6,642 newly diagnosed cases of COVID-19, raising the state’s confirmed coronavirus total to 1,059,324. An additional 123 deaths were reported, bringing the state's death toll to 18,049
The Associated Press and FOX 32's Anthony Ponce contributed to this report.