(The image above was originally published by ABC News, but you can find it virtually everywhere.)

A common theme that we’ve been grappling with the last few days is what the plan for reopening with look like. Many people I’ve spoken to have suggested that the economy is like a light switch, it’s on or off, but I think it’s much more nuanced than that. And, in fact, we’ve gotten some guidance from the governor as to how he envisions the reopening to occur.

The Five-Stage Plan

Governor Pritzker announced his five-stage plan for reopening Illinois earlier this week, as well as a map breaking down the regions of Illinois.

Each phase is associated with a stage of the pandemic and the reopening efforts that will take place.

Phase 1 is (hopefully) behind us. It is characterized by rapid spread of infection and rising cases and deaths. During phase 1 we saw strict stay-at-home orders and closure of non-essential business.

Phase 2 occurs when we see a flattening of the infection rate. New cases and deaths will continue to increase, but at a slowing pace. During phase 2 non-essential stores can begin curbside pickup (though, in my experience, they were already doing it) and outdoor locations will start to open up. No gathering allowed yet. This is the phase we are currently in. This will continue until the end of May, at the earliest.

Phase 3 occurs when the rates of infection are declining. Gathering of 10 or fewer people will be allowed and certain businesses (manufacturing, offices, retail, barbershops, and salons) will be allowed to reopen. Face coverings will still be worn when in public.

Phase 4 will occur when the rate of infection continues to decline. Restaurants, schools, and child care will reopen. Travel will resume. Gathering of up to 50 people will be permitted, but masks will still be required.

Phase 5 occurs when we have a vaccine. Everything will go back to ‘normal’ at that time.

When will we get to Phase 3?

The short answer is that no one knows. The rates of infection are beginning to flatten, but they are not declining, and we don’t know when they will. This may be affected by the reopening we’re seeing in other regions of the country. If people in other areas reopen too early and cause a second spike, that can change what happens here in Illinois.

The plan can change, as well. We will be watching how Texas and Georgia are handling the reopening and judge whether we’re on the same track.

More rural parts of the state, specifically southern Illinois, may be able to reopen sooner than the more populous areas. It will be interesting to see how that is handled.

Phase 3 isn’t back to ‘normal’

Phase 3 is far from ‘normal’. No gatherings of more than 10 people and constant face masks is far from the normal we remember from a few months ago. This will greatly affect the locations allowed to reopen.

How does an office reopen with less than 10 people? How about a courtroom?

We will continue to see the impact of the pandemic for many months, I fear. There are also concerns about a resurgence of the virus come fall. This is, of course, speculation, but it’s based on what happened during the Spanish Flu. Doctors have been saying that until we have a vaccine, we aren’t done with this virus.

Frankly, I worry about the possibility of the virus mutating or whatever viruses do. We could be living in a world with a new vaccine each year, much like COVID’s less-deadly cousin the flu. I fear this new ‘normal’ is here to stay.

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