After nearly 15 months of pandemic-related limitations on capacity and social-distancing protocols, Friday brought Phase 5 of the governor’s reopening plan and now the state of Illinois is fully open.

This final phase of the Restore Illinois Plan eliminates capacity limits for all businesses and activity restrictions for the first time since March 2020, when initial stay-at-home orders were enforced.

“A strong economy requires that people not only feel safe, but truly be safe as they go about their lives as workers, neighbors, consumers, and friends — and thanks to the lifesaving power of vaccinations, that day is finally here for Illinois,” said Gov. JB Pritzker in a Thursday news release. “You did it, Illinois.”

In accordance with guidance from the CDC, and unless other rules are posted, fully vaccinated people in Illinois can resume activities without wearing a mask. Local businesses and workplaces are permitted to continue mask enforcement.

A local look

With over 32 percent of Kankakee County residents being fully vaccinated, more and more people have been out and about as everyday activities start to resume. While on her lunch break at Wednesday afternoon’s Sandwiches with a Side of Jam event in downtown Kankakee, Joliet resident Teena Mackey said she was in favor of the state moving to Phase 5.

“Today’s good evidence of how people are eager to get back into the community,” she said of the event’s crowd. “I think with the high percentage of vaccinations that are occurring, people are really starting to take care of that. I think it’s measurable and safe and people are eager to get back together socially.”

Across the street at Kankakee Public Library, library director Steve Bertrand removed the masks from the lion statues outside of the building. This celebrated the library returning to allow full capacity with the option to wear masks.

While the library service desks will continue to have a surrounding barrier — they are currently looking into ways to replace the Plexiglass with something less “emergency looking” — Bertrand said “[the library should feel substantially more normal than before.”

The Kankakee County Museum celebrated reaching Phase 5 by sharing a photo on its social media of a “masks required” sign in the trash. The museum is back to full capacity and is no longer requiring masks.

Public transportation

Also returning to normal is public transportation. River Valley Metro Mass Transit District has limited seating on buses to less than 50 percent capacity and has not been collecting fares since March 2020.

Following current CDC and Illinois Phase 5 Guidelines, seating on all River Valley Metro buses has now returned to normal.

Beginning Thursday, July 1, they will begin collecting bus fares again on all routes. Fare is $1 per trip on local fixed routes and $2 per trip on the Midway Airport commuter route.

Ken Munjoy, River Valley Metro’s chief operating officer, said that the elimination of fare-collection was due to eliminating potential spread of the virus through person-to-person contact. He also mentioned that it eliminated the need for someone having to touch and count the money, and then have to take it to the bank and interact with others.

“With CDC relaxing the guidelines of spreading COVID by touch and now with the vaccine, declining [positivity] numbers and the return to Phase 5 in Illinois, we thought it was time to go back to normal ... go with finally,” said Munjoy.

The Transportation Security Administration still requires face coverings for all passengers using public transportation and barriers to keep drivers protected will remain intact.

Returning to the big screen

The state’s reopening also means activities like going to the movies can resume as if nothing ever happened.

Big screens went dark in March 2020 as the pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy, and theaters remained closed as COVID-19 precautions prevented indoor gatherings.

Cinemark Movies 10 in Bourbonnais welcomed moviegoers back in September 2020, while Classic Cinemas theaters in Kankakee held out until April 15, 2021.

Chris Johnson, CEO of Classic Cinemas, which includes Meadowview and Paramount, said the company was launching a campaign called “the big screen is back” to promote the summer movie season, which started Memorial Day weekend.

Theatrical exclusives such as “A Quiet Place Part II” have returned, while the Disney film “Cruella” also brings promise despite being available to stream at home, Johnson said.

“You can sit in front of the TV every single night, and if you come to the theater once a month, we’re thrilled,” he said. “It’s a special treat, just like you can buy ice cream, but you like to go out and get a cone every once in a while.”

Patronage is not at 2019 levels, but things are looking up as more new titles are being released, Johnson said.

According to Fandango, 96 percent of people buying tickets for “In the Heights” were returning to theaters for the first time since the pandemic.

“People are like, ‘OK, Phase 5, we’re ready; we’re out there,’” Johnson said. “Part of it is this excitement that we are opening back up and returning to normal. Now we have another option on the table — going to the movie theaters — which is all about going out, enjoying each other’s company and having something to do together.”

Reporter

Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools. She earned her B.A. in journalism from Eastern Illinois University.

Digital Content Editor

Meredith Melland earned a BA in journalism from DePaul University, where she worked as a web developer and editor for 14 East, DePaul's online student magazine. She has interned for Chicago magazine and WGN. Her email is mmelland@daily-journal.com.