Illinois Department of Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s daily press conference on May 2, 2020. | Photo: Colin Boyle/My Block, My Hood, My City.

Region 9, which includes Lake and McHenry counties, have been moved to less restrictive Tier 2 mitigation after state health officials bolstered capacity at hospitals in the two counties.

“With the state of Illinois launching multiple health care staffing contracts to increase hospital staffing, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is adjusting its mitigation metrics to reflect the additional staff,” the department said in a statement on Monday.

With the change, Regions 8, 9, 10, and 11 will move from the most restrictive Tier 3 to Tier 2. In addition, Region 1 and 6 have met the metrics to move to Tier 1, and Regions 3 and 5 have met the metrics to return to Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois Plan.

Officials said that hospital leaders and local health departments communicated to IDPH that their primary capacity challenge is the need for additional staffing and stressed that state-facilitated staffing contracts will be critical in addressing this challenge.

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“With this surge staffing program, IDPH and hospital leaders feel confident that metrics can safely move away from utilizing medical/surgical bed limits to move across mitigation tiers, allowing more regions to advance,” the department said.

To address capacity issues reported by Illinois hospitals, IDPH, in partnership with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) and the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS), has launched a surge staffing program.

The program leverages the state’s larger contracting power to engage multiple staffing vendors and create access to a talent pool at a greater scale than any individual hospital could achieve, the department said in the statement.

This resolves issues where hospitals have rooms available but lack the personnel to staff them.

“Hospital leaders have made clear the importance of staffing in their continued response to this pandemic and conveyed that staffing contracts will be extraordinarily valuable in their ability to meet the needs of their communities,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.

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“We are pleased to see most of our regions move out of Tier 3 mitigations with this change, and it is critical that we maintain this progress. With new variants of COVID-19 spreading, it is more important than ever to follow the public health guidance that keeps people safe – wear and mask and watch your distance,” Ngozi said.

After Tier 2 comes Tier 1 and then Phases 4 and 5. All restrictions are lifted in Phase 5, which is when a vaccine is widely available.

Lake and McHenry counties are close to meeting the guidelines to move into Tier 1, which is when indoor dining can resume.

The only requirement holding Region 9 from entering Tier 1 is the 8% positivity rate threshold. It is currently at 8.7%.

To learn more about the different tiers and phases, click here to read an explanation on the mitigations.