ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) ----- With stay-at-home restrictions beginning to lift across the country, local health experts recommend keeping your guard up to avoid a setback in the fight against COVID-19.
While Illinois remains one of the few states in the country requiring face coverings while out and about, infectious disease specialists say it's a rule worth following for the foreseeable future.
"We're here to be considerate and help protect the public, help protect our society," said Elizabeth Squires, NIU Public Health Program Coordinator.
With the possibility of reaching phase three of Reopen Illinois just days away, health experts say the proof that social distancing works is in the numbers.
"The fact that just two months in, we're starting to be able to use restrictions has also showed to me that it's worked. We've slowed the spread of this, we've gotten the public a lot more aware, we've started changing behaviors," said Squires.
But immunologists say this newfound freedom comes with great responsibility.
"What really is going to help us and help us get back to a new normal, not the old normal, but a new normal is a large percentage of people wearing their masks, trying to keep some distance, washing their hands. That's really the only hope I think we have of this working," said Ellen Tarr, Rock Valley College Dean of Math and Sciences.
"It's just kind of going back to the basics and really understanding when our bodies are fighting something, what that means and why it's so important that we get a vaccine as soon as possible, but why it's also so important that we have to protect ourselves because we don't have previous immunity to this new virus," said Kari Severson, Rockford University Assistant Professor of Biology.
As we look ahead toward the next few months and beyond, squires says the hard work is worth keeping people safe.
"People are going to come back and say, 'Well, we overreacted.' No, we reacted in just the way we needed to, in order to not create chaos," said Squires.
All three health experts say contact tracing will be key to determining how to best control the spread of the virus and essential to finding an effective form of treatment.
In response to the growing amount of misinformation about the pandemic, the World Health Organization now has a “COVID-19 myth busters” page. To find out more, click here.