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JACKSONVILLE — Illinois will make its biggest jump toward normality next week and could be on track to reopen fully as early as June 11.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday that the entire state will move into "bridge phase" on May 14. The phase further relaxes business restrictions and limitations on crowd sizes, including for dining and social and spectator events.

Vaccination rates in Illinois have outpaced national efforts, and Pritzker said the state's COVID-19 cases have stabilized after a few upticks. The state also is expanding vaccine administration to private doctors and small medical providers.

"I'm pleased to announce that the concerning upward movement of cases and hospitalizations we were seeing a few weeks ago have stabilized — a testament to the lifesaving, community-protecting power of vaccinations," Pritzker said.

Some 60% of adults in Illinois — including 85% of those 65 or older — have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

More than 9.7 million vaccine doses have been administered in Illinois as of Thursday, but health officials have expressed concern about a slowdown in the number of people seeking vaccination.

Ford is launching the Timberline Explorer, a more rugged, off-road-capable version of the popular midsize Sport Utility Vehicle.

"Vaccine hesitancy isn't so much about the science and the logic. It is about emotion and fear and lack of trust. While agreeing with the science, we need to address the fear and lack of trust quietly, confidently and with empathy for those who are hesitant," said Dr. Paul Pedersen, chief medical officer at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington. "Among those competent to discuss this empathetically are community physicians. We have a unique relationship with our patients and our communities to be able to help dispel the hesitancy. Arming us with vaccine in our offices will only enhance that capability."

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said vaccination will be particularly crucial as summer events reopen.

"If you've been vaccinated, talk with your friends and co-workers about getting vaccinated," Ezike said. "Research shows that health care providers, as well as friends and family, are who most people look to when deciding to get vaccinated. Wear your mask, avoid large crowds, and get your shot."


This article originally ran on pantagraph.com.