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Wabash County is included in the Southern Illinois Region of Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan. All indications point to Southern Illinois becoming the first region to qualify for advancement to phase three of Pritzker’s plan.

MOUNT CARMEL — When Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced his five-phase “Restore Illinois” reopening plan, Illinoisans were suddenly incremented into various regions, isolating reopenings on a regional basis, and in some cases, causing some odd divides.

For example, Wabash and Edwards County reside in what’s been defined as Southern Illinois, while Lawrence and Richland counties were divided into Central Illinois.

All Regions began in Phase two of Pritzker’s plan, which was deemed as the flattening stage, meaning the surge had showed signs of reduction enough to take a step forward.

One of the primary factors — along side the reduced surge — in reaching phase two is the testing capacity. As a state Illinois has routinely exceeded the 10,000 test benchmark on a daily basis with ease. Even recently the number soared as high as 29,000.

So in phase two, essential gatherings are expected to be limited to 10 or fewer people, and recreational options such as golfing, fishing, hiking, boating and others returned with restrictions.

Pritzker announced his five-phase plan was effective the beginning of May, so the earliest any region could advance onto phase three would be May 29, or when the state’s current stay-at-home order concludes.

But what criteria must be met for residents of Wabash County and the other 26 counties in Southern Illinois to collectively advance?

Qualifications call for a collective 20% or less positivity rate, while not showing an increase of 10% or more over a 14-day period. There must not be an overall increase in hospital admissions for COVID-19 in a 28-day window. There must also be availability of at least 14% for all ICU beds, medical and surgical beds, as well as ventilators. Testing must also be available for frontline workers, those in assisted living and the most vulnerable with underlying conditions.

So how does Southern Illinois stack up in meeting those requirements?

Data collected is accurate as of last Thursday, and some totals in counties have experienced change since then. 23 of the region’s 27 counties reported testing data to the Register. The four who didn’t provide results and thus will be excluded statistically from this study: Franklin, Madison, Monroe and Williamson counties.

To preface this, there’s no reason to believe four counties of varying case counts would skew the data tremendously in one direction or another, so the collective total will likely reflect an accurate depiction of all 27 combined.

Now, collectively the region had compiled 1,360 positive cases as of May 7, having tested 9,274 patients in whole between the 23 counties. The highest regional totals were: St. Clair County with a 24.2% positivity rate and Clinton with a 20.3% positivity rate. Wabash County notably boasts the Region’s lowest positivity rate of its tested cases, with an incredibly low .005% positivity rate among its 220 tested at Wabash General Hospital.

The Region accounted for 4.2 of Illinois’ death toll. Jefferson County posted the Region’s highest mortality rate of COVID-19 positive patients at an astonishing 16.5% mark.

So overall, the data clears Pritzker’s goal of less than 20% for advancement.

As for the other critera — it remains to be seen how the counties will look in the coming necessitated 14-day window, which would likely begin effective Friday, May 15. They’d have to continue below that 20% trend and not show any signs of a trending incline.

Furthermore, the region must have not shown an overall increase in its hospital admissions — another point that will draw out until the May 29 deadline.

As for availability in the region’s ICU beds, medical and surgical beds, and ventilators, they must have a remaining capcity of a minimum of 14% to clear the benchmark. As of now, 76.5% of ventilators in the region remain available for usage, and 31% of ICU beds remain vacant.

Testing availability has immensely improved, leaving just contact tracing by local health departments, who must begin tracing and monitoring positive cases within a 24-hour window of the initial positive result.

So in theory, pending an unforseen surge, Southern Illinois should be the first to advance on to Phase three, which would add further luxuries such as non-essential businesses and retail stores.

Phase three virtually has the same requirements for advancement as Phase two, so the key is going to be stability. View Phase three as a trial run with some normalcy returning.

The earliest a region could advance onto Phase four would be late-June, likely June 27.

There are of course some concerns with this plan, as well as the requirements to advance.

For one, some health departments who were contacted for this study expressed the difficulty in tracking an accurate total of tests administered. Those near St. Louis in particular reported many of their cases commuting to Missouri to be tested.

And for the conclusion of this plan, the state must obtain access to a vaccine, effective treatment, or develop herd immunity. A vaccine’s earliest arrival would likely be September after large-scaled clinical trials, treatment breakthroughs continue to be researched in studies with some promising results, and herd immunity can only be achieved through 40% of the state population displaying COVID-19 antibodies.

Though Illinois has been the third-worst effected state in the country, it’s not likely 40% of Illinoisans will reach that mark with such restrictions. The Indiana Department of Public Health released a study suggesting nearly 3% of its population had COVID-19 antibodies — nowhere near herd immunity status.

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