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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

McLean County Moves To Phase 4 COVID Mitigations

Men in bowling alley
Seth Wenig
/
AP
People separated by plexiglass barriers bowl at Homefield Bowl in Yonkers, N.Y., Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.

UPDATED 5:40 P.M. | Central Illinois is officially moving out of additional mitigations as the region's COVID-19 statistics continue to improve.Region 2, which includes Bloomington, Normal, Peoria, Galesburg, Macomb, and the Quad Cities, was moved out of Tier 1 mitigations and into Phase 4 by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) on Monday. Region 1, which includes Rockford and other northern Illinois communities, also was shifted into Phase 4.

Among other things, Phase 4 increases the capacity limits for indoor bar and restaurant service, as well as museums and social events.

McLean County Health Department Administrator Jessica McKnight said the move to Phase 4 is an encouraging sign, but added it’s too soon to become complacent about COVID-19.

“It shows what we can accomplish and what we have accomplished.,” McKnight said. “We still need to keep monitoring those metrics very closely, because the last thing we want to do it is see those mitigation measures pulled back and have to implement them again.”

High school sports

The move to Phase 4 also opens the door for more high school sports. Sports which the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) considered high risk, including football, basketball and wrestling are able to resume competition.

Bloomington High School Athletic Director Tony Bauman said he started to prepare for the move after IDPH last week said it would allow high-risk sports in regions that reached Phase 4.

“I knew we were close and had anticipated early this week we would get that news. Can’t say I was thinking it would come as early as today,” Bauman said.

Bauman added several winter sports athletes at BHS transferred out of state to compete this year while Illinois had banned their sports during the pandemic.

Illinois High School Association spokesman Matt Troha said the next step in resuming high-risk sports will come during a Wednesday board meeting to set parameters for the rest of the school year.

“They will probably cut it into three abbreviated seasons and figure out which sports are going to land when,” Troha said. “I think the (IHSA board of directors) has a desire to provide a little bit longer season for the sports because they didn’t get to play last year.”

Troha said one aspect to be determined is whether the sports can fit any postseason play into a tight schedule with winter, spring and summer activities packed into a tight calendar.

Troha added high-risk sports teams will be limited to competing against other schools that also are in Phase 4 regions.

Bauman said condensing fall, winter and spring sports seasons will likely lead to some overlap, which he said will cause some logistical challenges, including scheduling and staffing. He added BHS doesn’t plan to allow fans, at least initially.

He said even if the IHSA allows limited attendance, social distancing will remain a challenge, especially in smaller, indoor facilities.

“We might be better off, just to say we’re not going to have spectators just to keep everybody a little bit safer and then not get into some of those issues with how do you make sure you are following those guidelines,” Bauman said.

Phase 4 allows for up to 50 spectators at sporting events.

Museums

Museums also are permitted to open on a limited basis under the move to Phase 4.

Beth Whisman, the Town of Normal’s executive director of cultural arts and the Children’s Discovery Museum, said the museum plans to remain closed to the general public as hands-on exhibits are still not allowed. But museums can hold in-person classes and events of up to 10 people.

“We anticipate we’ll be able to begin a reserved-time format for families by late spring,” Whisman said.  “At that point, we can press play on the museum membership program. It has been on pause since March.”

The McLean County Museum of History in Bloomington also plans to maintain a mostly virtual presence for a while.

Executive Director Julie Emig said the museum is taking care of several major renovations staff decided to address while the museum was closed for the pandemic. She said renovations to its public restrooms will likely take several more weeks to finish. The museum also is starting an historic lighting restoration project in its courtroom and rotunda.

Emig said she will meet with the contractor to see how soon the museum could open while that work is being done. She said that would likely allowed for a limited opening in late February.

“We just want to be sure we have everything cleaned and properly prepared before we open the doors,” Emig said. “But we’re excited for people to start coming back into our glorious building.”

Both projects are being funded through Illinois Department of Natural Resources grants for public museums, Emig said.

The museum also plans to begin work on its roof replacement in the spring.

More information is available on the IDPH website. 

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