Watch now: Illinois’ reopening is a ‘taste of freedom’ for Bloomington-Normal | Local News

Watch now: Illinois’ reopening is a ‘taste of freedom’ for Bloomington-Normal | Local News

BLOOMINGTON – Finally, a sense of “freedom” and “normalcy” have emerged in Bloomington-Normal, leaving business owners, church leaders and music operators “encouraged” and “hopeful.”

For the first time in one year and about three months, Illinoisans are free to enter businesses, restaurants and other venues without being told it’s at capacity and, in many cases, without having to wear a mask or socially distance.

Illinois entered Phase 5 of its reopening plan Friday, eliminating capacity limits that were imposed to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, and giving the state its closest glimpse to pre-pandemic life in about 15 months.

“For me, it’s a taste of freedom again,” said Rory O’Connor, owner of the Castle Theatre, 209 E. Washington St., Bloomington, which will have its first restriction-free concert Sunday night with performances from Miles Nielson and the Rusted Hearts, and Nick Perri and the Undergo.

COVID-19 infection rates have plummeted. McLean County reported just three new cases and a seven-day positivity rate of 0.9% on Wednesday, its latest report.

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At the same time, the number of people vaccinated against the virus has increased. In McLean County, 43.35% of the population was fully vaccinated as of Friday afternoon, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

But most Bloomington-Normal establishments aren’t ready to call the pandemic over just yet. The majority continue to follow CDC guidelines: If you’re vaccinated, you don’t need to wear a mask or socially distance, but if you’re not fully vaccinated, you’re encouraged to mask up.

Individual businesses can still enforce certain restrictions, and some are, but capacity limits are mostly gone.

Members of Wesley United Methodist Church, 502 E. Front St., Bloomington, removed tape that was blocking off every other pew, in anticipation for Sunday’s worship — the first since March 2020 that will be open indoors at full capacity.

The church held online worship until April, when it gathered outdoors. They moved indoors in May with mask requirements, social distancing and capacity limits, said the Rev. Sarah Isbell.


Watch now: 6 questions about Illinois entering phase five

“This Sunday is pretty exciting in terms of being able to worship together without masks, with singing and without capacity limitations. So, that is very exciting for us and we’re hopeful,” Isbell said.

Things are trending upward for Maggie Miley’s, too, a bar and restaurant at 126 E. Beaufort St., Normal.

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“It feels good. It’s nice to be able to be open,” said one Maggie Miley’s manager.

Outdoor seating remains open at the uptown Normal pub, but indoor seating is back to regular spacing. They are not enforcing mask-wearing for vaccinated people, but some workers are keeping them on for the time being.

Eastland Mall, 1615 E. Empire St., Bloomington, is leaving enforcements to its respective businesses.

Stacey Keating, spokeswoman for Eastland Mall owner CBL Properties, said they recommend people follow the guidelines “to keep the community healthy,” but they’re not enforcing restrictions in common areas.

Old Navy at Eastland Mall recently eased its capacity limits before Friday’s full reopening. They’re encouraging mask-wearing for people not vaccinated, “but it is entirely up to them,” said store manager Elisabeth Ashley.



When Illinois enters phase five Friday it will be the first time in more than a year that there are no limitations on the size of gatherings and most public activities.







Overall, the store is “slowly” getting back to normal. They’ve taken some social distancing signs down, but they will leave up the rest “for the time being just so everybody remembers to be cautious,” Ashley said.

Old Navy also had its fitting rooms open for most of the pandemic, but they were cleaning between each customer.

“Now it’s slowly starting to get easier where we don’t have to open the doors to and fro for them,” Ashley said. “They can just kind of go in themselves and help themselves to a fitting room.”

Keating said Eastland Mall is encouraged with the reopening, and customer traffic started increasing in March and April.

“While we haven’t necessarily reached pre-pandemic traffic levels, I think that this state opening up and signaling to the community they can go out in public, they can shop in public, they can dine in restaurants comfortably — it’s definitely encouraging and will hopefully lead to another increase in traffic at our shopping centers,” Keating said.

The Castle Theatre also slowly reopened in the spring with concerts containing limited crowd sizes after being shuttered for over a year.






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This 2019 file photo shows the Castle Theatre in downtown Bloomington as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down such entertainment venues. The Castle slowly reopened this spring with concerts with limited crowd sizes after being shuttered for over a year.




“Now that the recovery phase begins, we gotta pick it up,” O’Connor said. “It feels in some ways we’re starting over. We’re not, because we’ve been in the community for over 10 years, but in some respect it kind of feels like we’re starting over.”

The Pantagraph for more than a year has been chronicling the experiences of six area residents as they navigate the challenges of COVD-19 and its aftermath. 

The Pantagraph for more than a year has been chronicling the experiences of six area residents as they navigate the challenges of COVD-19 and its aftermath.

The Pantagraph for more than a year has been chronicling the experiences of six area residents as they navigate the challenges of COVD-19 and its aftermath.

The Pantagraph for more than a year has been chronicling the experiences of six area residents as they navigate the challenges of COVD-19 and its aftermath.

The Pantagraph for more than a year has been chronicling the experiences of six area residents as they navigate the challenges of COVD-19 and its aftermath. 

The Pantagraph for more than a year has been chronicling the experiences of six area residents as they navigate the challenges of COVD-19 and its aftermath. 


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