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Illinois Catholics long for ‘normal life’ after governor announces lockdown plan

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by Matt Hadro

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 8, 2020 / 03:10 pm MT (CNA).- The Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, said that the Church must return to “normal life” after the governor announced plans to ban large gatherings until a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment is available.

Earlier in the week, the state’s Governor JB Pritzker unveiled a five-phase “Restore Illinois” plan that bans gatherings of more than 50 people until a vaccine or treatment is available, or the virus has stopped spreading for a sustained period of time. Health officials have said that a vaccine for the new coronavirus (COVID-19) might not be available for 12 to 18 months.

Currently, people in the state are allowed to attend religious services of 10 or fewer people, but no gatherings of more than 10 people are permitted until phase 4 of Pritzker’s plan, and the state wouldn’t even be able to “advance” to phase 3 until May 29.

“The Church has certainly done her part in making great sacrifices to slow the spread of this virus,” Andrew Hansen, director of communications for the diocese of Springfield, Illinois, told CNA on Friday.

“That said, the Church must return to her normal life of liturgy and communal worship,” Hansen said, while emphasizing precautions such as social distancing “will likely be the appropriate path longer term for the return to some version of normalcy for the Church.”

Previously, in-person or drive-in religious services were banned in the state. The Thomas More Society filed a lawsuit on behalf of a church in Lena, Ill., on April 30. Later that evening a paragraph was added to the governor’s executive order allowing for people to leave their homes to attend religious services of ten or fewer people, the society’s president Peter Breen told CNA.

The next day, May 1, the archdiocese of Chicago announced it would be resuming public Masses with 10 or fewer people.

According to the “Restore Illinois” plan, there could not be any gathering of between 11 and 50 people in size until phase 4 of the plan—“Revitalization.”

That phase can start only when certain conditions have been met: the positivity rate of COVID tests is at or under 20% and doesn’t rise by more than 10 points over 14 days; hospital admissions don’t increase for 28 days; and hospitals have at least 14% “surge capacity” in ICU beds, medical and surgical beds, and ventilators.

Pitzker clarified in a Wednesday press conference that religious services would be part of this 50-person limit in phase 4, and schools would not be allowed to reopen until then, raising questions of how tuition-dependent Catholic schools might fare in the fall if remote learning is still widely utilized.

The state’s superintendent of education has said that at least some schools might have to begin the new school year with remote learning, or with students attending classes in-person only on certain days.

“So we continue to hope and pray schools will reopen next school year. Certainly, when our schools reopen, new measures and precautions will be in place,” Hansen told CNA.

The president of DePaul University, located in Chicago, announced earlier this week that the university already plans to “minimize our footprint on campus this fall,” and that an announcement of the fall plans could happen by June 15

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