SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Illinois will move into the Bridge Phase of the Restore Illinois reopening plan starting Friday, May 14.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker made the announcement Thursday and says the Bridge Phase will allow for expanded capacity limits for businesses and gatherings before the state moves to a full reopening in Phase 5.
Officials believe as long as there is no significant reversal in COVID-19 statewide indicators, Illinois could enter Phase 5 as soon as June 11.
Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike and Gov. Pritzker also announced that private doctors' offices and small medical providers can now begin to order and administer the vaccine directly to patients.
Interested providers can register with the Illinois Comprehensive Automated Immunization Registry Exchange (I-CARE).
As the CDC approves certain vaccines for younger residents, including young people ages 12-15, the administration is encouraging pediatric offices to also register with I-CARE. Providers interested in registering with the application should go to the IDPH website and view the enrollment packet.
Currently, 1,054 doctors’ offices in in the state have registered to administer the COVID-19 vaccine on site.
Data shows that 60 percent of adult Illinois residents have received their first dose, including 85 percent of residents ages 65 and older.
George Poulos, owner of Stray Hen, says he's ecited about the loosening of restrictions but added the industry as a whole is still suffering.
"We are short-staffed now," Poulos said. "A lot of restaurants I know are short-staffed. That's a battle in itself. So we're working on that, to get some employees and cover that aspect of it.
Restaurant patrons are split about the announcement of expanded capacity.
"I’m ecstatic that we’re getting back to the norm and it’s going to help all the businesses in the area," Wade Jones said.
Restaurant-goer Dan Beller says there is no reason to rush.
"I think it’s kind of of a mistake," Beller said. "I thought maybe open up stuff by September ... because it’s just going to be too much too fast, I think. Slow down a little bit because we’d hate to go through all of this again."
State-run vaccination sites will also now accept walk-ins in addition to pre-booked appointments in order to expand vaccine distribution.
"Vaccination is how we can get back to summer camps, swimming lessons, and youth sports; but it is not something the Illinois Department of Public Health can do on its own. We need everyone’s help. If you’ve been vaccinated, talk with your friends and co-workers about getting vaccinated," said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. "Research shows that health care providers, as well as friends and family, are who most people look to when deciding to get vaccinated. Wear your mask, avoid large crowds, and get your shot."
Health officials say that over 9.7 million vaccine doses have been administered to Illinois residents, with millions of those shots taking place at mass vaccination sites, pharmacies, federally qualified health centers, community outreach initiatives and mobile clinics.
Additionally, officials say vaccine scarcity is no longer the primary barrier to vaccinations, and the administration is now trying to meet people where they are as much as possible.
This effort includes partnering with community organizations to host sites at a location of their choosing, rural and rapid response mobile vaccination teams, and today’s announcements expanding to doctors’ offices and accepting walk-ins at state-supported sites.
IDPH says it is coordinating vaccination clinics with religious groups, community organizations, mutual aid programs, neighborhood associations and other organizations.
To host a clinic in your community, sign-up here.