Coronavirus numbers rise, post-holiday spike looms — and Pritzker warns: ‘Stay home. … Assume you were exposed’

Coronavirus numbers rise, post-holiday spike looms — and Pritzker warns: ‘Stay home. … Assume you were exposed’

Gov. J.B. Pritzker appears at a COVID-19 briefing Monday at the Thompson Center in the Loop. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The 125 latest deaths attributed to the virus are higher than the state’s average of about 110 deaths per day over the last two weeks. That rate was just 42 deaths per day at the start of November. 

With 125 more deaths and 12,542 new infections, Illinois’ coronavirus metrics took a slight turn in the wrong direction Tuesday — and it could soon get worse with a potential post-Thanksgiving spike looming.

As the state logged its highest number of new daily cases in almost two weeks, Gov. J.B. Pritzker suggested the state might already be feeling the effects of transmissions at family holiday gatherings last week.

One factor behind the state’s first five-figure caseload in five days is the fact they were detected among 116,081 tests, following a dip in testing over holiday weekend. That still raised the state’s average positivity rate over the last week from 10.1% to 10.4%.

No matter which way you look at the figures, there’s only one way for residents to ensure their safety over the next few weeks, according to the Democratic governor.

“Stay home as much as possible. Assume you were exposed and assume more of your coworkers or friends were exposed than ever before,” Pritzker said. “It’s the safest thing that you can do for the people that you love and for the health care workers who risk their lives to help you when you need them.”

The 125 latest deaths attributed to the virus are higher than the state’s average of about 110 deaths per day over the last two weeks. That rate was just 42 deaths per day at the start of November.

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Illinois’ hospital situation saw marginal improvement as the number of beds occupied by COVID-19 patients dipped slightly to 5,835 by Monday night, as did the number of occupied ICU beds, down to 1,195.

But the number of patients requiring ventilators increased slightly to 721 — and all the coronavirus hospital metrics are still close to record highs, far surpassing anything the state saw in the spring.

As Chicago reported an average positivity rate below 12% for a third consecutive day (now down to 11.5%), Tuesday could have marked a return to loosened business restrictions for the city, according to the metrics set by Pritzker when he imposed tighter mitigations for the surging state Nov. 20.

Emilio Cici, 42, of Burr Ridge, gets a shot at Rush University Medical Center as part of a clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by drugmaker AstraZeneca.Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times file
Emilio Cici, 42, of Burr Ridge, gets a shot at Rush University Medical Center as part of a clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by drugmaker AstraZeneca last month.

But Pritzker, citing the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci, changed course this week, saying the current restrictions will be in place statewide for at least “the next few weeks” regardless of any recent progress, as officials brace for the potential wave of Thanksgiving outbreaks.

“I wish I could answer the question exactly how long [the restrictions will remain],” Pritzker said. “What the doctors … have told me is that we should expect to see the surge upon a surge, but I’m also praying that the work that we’ve done … might mitigate the damage.”

The scope of a possible spike won’t show up in the data for at least another 10 days because of the virus’ incubation period, which is about two weeks. Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said people who celebrated the holiday with people from outside their immediate household should get tested this week.

But the state is also bracing for a positive development, with about 109,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine expected to be delivered to the state in the first shipment from the federal government within the next few weeks, Pritzker said.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike during a daily COVID-19 update last month.Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike during a daily COVID-19 update last month.

That estimate includes up to 25,000 doses that could be shipped directly to the city of Chicago, but Pritzker cautioned that federal authorities are constantly updating the number of potential vaccinations that could be Illinois-bound.

The vaccine requires two doses, so the latest estimates mean they would be enough for about 54,500 Illinoisans, including roughly 12,500 Chicagoans.

“What I know is that we’re going to be focusing on those populations that are most vulnerable, and also the people who treat the most vulnerable — not just health care workers, but others who may work with the most vulnerable,” Pritzker said.

Since March, 10.6 millions coronavirus tests have been administered in Illinois, with about 739,000 people confirmed to carry COVID-19 and 12,403 of those dying.

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