COVID Re-Opening Phase 5: What Now for Illinois and Chicago Businesses?

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Epstein Becker & Green

On June 11, 2021, Illinois and the City of Chicago entered Phase 5 of its five-stage reopening plans. As part of the transition, Illinois released Executive Order 2021-12 (the “Phase 5 Reopening Order”) and new Phase 5 Guidance. Chicago also issued Phase 5 Recommendations and provided a helpful graphic that provides additional recommendations, which apply to all businesses. For Illinois and Chicago businesses, Phase 5 means a lifting of many COVID-19 restrictions across industries. Although businesses can start operating closer to normal, Phase 5 is a new normal that still includes social distancing and masking recommendations that should be on your Company’s radar.

The Illinois Phase 5 Reopening Order sets forth public health measures that Illinois businesses are urged to adopt to protect their employees, including:

  • Ensuring that employees who are not fully vaccinated practice social distancing and wear face coverings when social distancing is not always possible.
  • Ensuring that all spaces where employees may gather, including locker rooms and lunchrooms, allow for social distancing.
  • Ensuring that all visitors (including vendors) to the workplace who are not fully vaccinated can practice social distancing, but if maintaining social distancing at all times is not possible, businesses should encourage those visitors to wear face coverings.
  • Make hand sanitizer and sanitizing products available.
  • Maintain accommodations for vulnerable populations.
  • Continue to take all necessary steps to protect employees and customers by ensuring that any return to work plans adhere to all applicable public health guidance.

The Illinois Phase 5 Guidance further sets forth recommended prevention strategies applicable to all Illinois businesses, as follows:

  • Illinois Phase 5 Guidance replaces the previously issued industry-specific guidance by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The Phase 5 Guidance no longer includes many components in the now-superseded guidance for offices, such as capacity limitations, health screenings, or providing COVID-19 related notifications to the local health department.
  • For indoor businesses where everyone present is not fully vaccinated, unvaccinated persons should wear a face covering and maintain six feet of social distance. However, fully vaccinated persons are no longer required to wear masks or socially distance, except in those circumstances specified in CDC guidance, including on public transportation, in “congregate facilities” (e.g., homeless shelters or correctional facilities) and in health care settings. For outdoor businesses, unvaccinated persons may choose not to wear a face covering when able to maintain a six-foot social distance while outdoors.
  • For indoor businesses where everyone present is fully vaccinated, face coverings and social distancing are not required for anyone (except, again, in those circumstances specified in CDC guidance, including on public transportation, in homeless shelters or correctional facilities and in health care settings).
  • Unvaccinated persons should wear face coverings in indoor and outdoor crowded settings.
  • Businesses are still advised to support social distancing to the extent possible (especially in indoor settings) and can require additional precautions. Businesses should also be supportive of employees and customers who choose to wear a face covering.

Chicago’s Phase 5 Recommendations track the language of the Illinois Phase 5 Guidance and similarly replace the City’s previously issued industry-specific guidance. Chicago’s Phase 5 Recommendations also advise businesses to ensure hygienic interactions (e.g., hand washing), post hygiene resources and guidance in spaces, adhere to cleaning standards to disinfect spaces, provide flexibility with sick leave and remote working and facilitate testing and tracking.

In addition, Mayor Lori Lightfoot went a step further when discussing the City’s masking requirements in Phase 5. In Mayor Lightfoot’s June 11 Press Release related to the Phase 5 reopening she states, “[i]f you are not fully vaccinated, you need to continue to wear your mask in all indoor settings.” So, unvaccinated persons in Chicago will need to keep their masks on for now indoors.

Although Illinois and Chicago are in Phase 5, the guidelines identify the cautious approach to reopening that businesses should carefully review. As Illinois and Chicago continue to progress through Phase 5, the applicable guidance and recommendations will evolve as well.

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