Under Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker's plan to reopen Illinois through the coronavirus pandemic, churches are included in restrictions that could limit gatherings to 50 people or fewer for more than a year.
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Pritzker's plan includes five phases of reopening based on defined benchmarks based on the rate of infection in different areas of the state.
The first, and most restrictive, phase is phase 1, called "rapid spread." All of Illinois has already qualified for phase 2, "flattening." Phase 3, "recovery," is dependent on decreased rate of infection and hospitalization, as well as widely available testing and contact tracing.
Moving to phase 4, revitalization, requires a continued positive trend in the aforementioned areas. The final phase, "Illinois restored," requires a "vaccine, treatment or the elimination of new cases over a sustained period of time through herd immunity or other factors."
Under the current phase, gatherings are limited to those deemed "essential" and limited to 10 people or fewer. Phase 3 allows for "all" gatherings of 10 or fewer people. Phase 4 allows for all gatherings of 50 people or fewer.
So, churches that draw more than 50 people won't be able to fully return to normal until a vaccine is deployed (which is not a certainty), or until there's a highly effective medical treatment available. Or, until there are no new cases of the virus altogether.
Experts speculate that a vaccine could be 12-18 months away from being widely available, and because of the widespread isolation policies in the U.S., the country could be further from herd immunity than it otherwise would be.
Despite the constitutional concerns involved with restricting religious gatherings, Pritzker confirmed that churches would receive no exemptions from the policy, saying he was following the guidance that had been given to him.
"You know, that in phase three, there can be gatherings, church gatherings, of 10 or fewer. In phase four, 50 or fewer. So that's the guidance that's been given to me," Pritzker said during a Wednesday news conference, according to the Washington Examiner. "I'm not the one providing that guidance. It really is what the scientists and epidemiologists are recommending."