Under guidance released by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, it could take more than a year before churches with more than 50 attendees can resume in-person services and gatherings.
On Tuesday, Pritzker unveiled the state’s five-phase reopening plan, giving a general idea of when schools, businesses, churches, and other venues can return to normalcy—with continued safety precautions.
Phase One began with Pritzker’s initial lockdown order back in March. The state is currently in Phase Two, which is aimed at “flattening the curve.” Under Phase Three, gatherings of up to ten people will be allowed. In Phase Four, that number increases to fifty. Gatherings of fifty or more, however, like most church services, will not be allowed until the final phase of the plan.
In addition, schools, bars, and restaurants will be able to reopen by Phase Four given adherence to the 50-person limit.
Pritzker confirmed in a Wednesday press conference that churches will be held to the same standards as businesses and will not be allowed to hold in-person services for greater than fifty people, even if it takes more than a year to get to that point.
Phase Five, the reopening plan states, cannot begin until a vaccine is widely available, a highly effective therapeutic drug is released, or a drastic reduction in infections is seen due to herd immunity.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, however, a vaccine is 12 to 18 months away from being available to the public.
“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. “I’m not the one providing that guidance. It really is what the scientists and epidemiologists are recommending.”
Pritzker said the state officially entered Phase Two last Friday and will enter Phase Three on May 29 at the absolute earliest. Face masks will be recommended in public until phase five is reached.
Public officials at the local level, however, are not all falling in line with orders out of Springfield.
According to the Kankakee Daily Journal, the mayor of St. Anne said he will not prevent any church in the village from holding services and that churches were free to resume in-person services as early as last Sunday.
Mayor David O’Connell said in a Facebook post last Friday that Gov. Pritzker’s order to shut down church services violated the U.S. and Illinois constitutions regarding the separation of church and state
“Therefore, I am stating that all our Churches, the Baptist Church, Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church are free to start having services again as soon as this Sunday [May 3],” O’Connell wrote. “The Village will not interfere with any church service. In fact, it is my belief that we need God’s guidance in our lives more than ever at this time.”
“I’m just saying it’s available,” he said, clarifying to the Daily Journal that he was not forcing churches to reopen. “If a church would like to open, they can. … At some point, someone has to step up. If I have to be the one to run through the wall first, that’s fine. I’m not smart enough to stay quiet.”
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