Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and state officials speak at their daily press conference on May 6, 2020 | Photo: Illinois Information Service.

Illinois is approaching nearly 3,000 COVID-19 deaths as Gov. J.B. Pritzker spoke Wednesday about communities of color being the most impacted by the pandemic.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced 2,270 new coronavirus cases and 136 additional deaths as of Wednesday. The state’s COVID-19 total is now 68,232 positive cases and 2,974 deaths.

Laboratories have processed 14,974 COVID-19 tests in the past 24 hours, officials said. The total number of people tested so far in the state is at 361,260.

Pritzker and IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike said that data shows the Latino community in Illinois is facing a significantly higher rate of infection. Latino people represent more than 40% of new reported cases in the past week.

26,000 people who identified as Hispanic were tested for coronavirus and nearly 60% of them tested positive, which is more than three times the state average positivity rate, Pritzker said.

“Because of decades of disparities in health care access and delivery, we’ve seen the worst effects of this pandemic fall upon, disproportionately, upon the backs of the communities of color in our state,” Pritzker said.

“That’s especially true in our Black communities, our Native American communities and our Latinx communities,” he added.

The state is providing thousands of hotel rooms free of charge for those who test positive and need help to quarantine away from those in their household.

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Pritzker reminded residents about the face covering requirement. “Face coverings are required in public situations where social distance cannot be maintained. That applies only to those who are medically able to wear a mask,” he said.

“Protecting your fellow Americans by wearing a face covering in public is a collective act of patriotism, and doctors will tell you it’s one of the best things we can do for public health right now,” he added.

On Tuesday, Pritzker announced Restore Illinois, a five-phase plan that he says focuses on saving lives and reopening the state.

“Here’s the truth, and I don’t like it anymore than you do: Until we have a vaccine or an effective treatment or enough widespread immunity that new cases fail to materialize, the option of returning to normalcy doesn’t exist,” Pritzker said.

“We have to figure out how to live with COVID-19 until it can be vanquished – and to do so in a way that best supports our residents’ health and our healthcare systems, and saves the most lives,” Pritzker said.

“Restore Illinois is a public health plan to safely reintroduce the parts of our lives that have been put on hold in our fight against COVID-19. This is also a data-driven plan that operates on a region-by-region basis, a recognition that reality on the ground looks different in different areas of our state,” he added.

Illinois’ 11 medical regions grouped into four regions | Graphic provided by the Office of the Governor J.B. Pritzker.

The plan is based on regional healthcare availability. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has 11 Emergency Medical Services Regions. Those 11 regions were grouped into four new regions called northeast, north-central, central and southern. Each have the ability to independently move through a phased approach: Northeast Illinois; North-Central Illinois; Central Illinois; and Southern Illinois.

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The five phases of reopening for each health region consist of the following:

Phase 1Rapid Spread: The rate of infection among those tested and the number of patients admitted to the hospital is high or rapidly increasing. Strict stay at home and social distancing guidelines are put in place and only essential businesses remain open. Every region has experienced this phase once already and could return to it if mitigation efforts are unsuccessful.

Phase 2Flattening: The rate of infection among those tested and the number of patients admitted to the hospital beds and ICU beds increases at an ever slower rate, moving toward a flat and even a downward trajectory. Non-essential retail stores reopen for curb-side pickup and delivery. Illinoisans are directed to wear a face covering when outside the home, and can begin enjoying additional outdoor activities like golf, boating and fishing while practicing social distancing. To varying degrees, every region is experiencing flattening as of early May.

Phase 3Recovery: The rate of infection among those tested, the number of patients admitted to the hospital, and the number of patients needing ICU beds is stable or declining. Manufacturing, offices, retail, barbershops and salons can reopen to the public with capacity and other limits and safety precautions. All gatherings limited to 10 or fewer people are allowed. Face coverings and social distancing are the norm.

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Phase 4Revitalization: The rate of infection among those tested and the number of patients admitted to the hospital continues to decline. All gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed, restaurants and bars reopen, travel resumes, child care and schools reopen under guidance from the IDPH. Face coverings and social distancing are the norm.

Phase 5Illinois Restored: With a vaccine or highly effective treatment widely available or the elimination of any new cases over a sustained period, the economy fully reopens with safety precautions continuing. Conventions, festivals and large events are permitted, and all businesses, schools, and places of recreation can open with new safety guidance and procedures in place reflecting the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Restore Illinois five-phase plan | Graphic provided by the Office of the Governor J.B. Pritzker.

All of Illinois is currently in phase 2. Pritzker said that it is possible for a region to return to a prior phase based on worsening health metrics.

The earliest a region can enter phase 3 would be May 29.

To read the full 10-page document detailing the plan, click here.