Based on measurable data, Illinois moved into phase three of its plan to bring daily life back to normal last week. After almost 80 days under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-home order, we now have at least another 28 days to move into the next phase, but without the daily afternoon briefings that have become a ritual for reporters and residents.

Likely the majority of Illinoisans weren’t glued to Pritzker’s press conferences — although most of us didn’t have anything better to do — but the daily numbers were worth tracking. Those numbers will keep coming, hopefully bringing with them even more understanding of how to combat, control and coexist with the coronavirus.

Most folks focus on two prominent figures: the number of new COVID-19 deaths and positive tests. Those tend to be put into immediate context of the totals for each. There are other useful numbers as well, such as the number of people currently hospitalized, broken down into how many are in intensive care units and how many are on ventilators.

But these figures only scratch the surface. The Illinois Department of Public Health breaks down the information across four geographical areas, which allows reporting the availability of medical, surgical and ICU beds and ventilators.

Looking at things like the seven-day rolling positivity rate is informative, as is an understanding of the benchmarks each region must hit over the coming weeks in order to move to phase four by June 26. Yet it’s also understandable for people to feel overwhelmed by the numbers and make judgments based primarily on observational data.

Maybe you hear IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike say 44% of COVID-19-related deaths occurred in long-term care facilities and sigh in relief, feeling your daily routines are isolated from such danger. Maybe you work in one of those facilities and constantly worry you might bring home a sickness that infects your loved ones.

Because we have the phase four benchmarks in record, we know what to expect under those conditions: hospitals ready for admissions surges, rapid deployment of contact tracing to minimize disease spread as much as possible and persistent vigilance just to keep things as stable as possible.

Life is unlikely to be “normal” in the ways we remember pre-pandemic, at least until researchers develop effective disease treatment. Any parent of school-aged children knows teachers and administrators are working diligently on how to deliver education come August, and the rest of us realize the road to returning to work hinges on how often the kids will be home.

Most certainly Pritzker, Ezike and others will continue to address everyone. The briefings have ended, but not our common responsibility to public health. Good information will only help lead us forward.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at [ ]

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