Health chief’s challenge to any who doubt staggering COVID-19 numbers: ‘Ask any hospital executive across the state’ 

Health chief’s challenge to any who doubt staggering COVID-19 numbers: ‘Ask any hospital executive across the state’ 

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. | Screenshot of state live-stream

Illinois’ record 6,943 daily coronavirus caseload on Friday pushed the year’s total past 400,000. It’s the fourth day in a week that new infections topped 6,000 — a number that far exceeds anything seen in the state’s previous peak in May.

Illinois’ average coronavirus testing positivity rate reached its highest point in five months Friday as public health officials announced a second straight record-breaking day of 6,943 new infections statewide.

It’s the fourth time in a week that the daily caseload has topped 6,000 — a number that far exceeds anything seen in the state’s previous COVID-19 peak in May.

The soaring tally came along with a record-high 95,111 tests submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health, raising the statewide average testing positivity rate over the last week to 7.3%.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s health team uses the average testing positivity rate to gauge how rapidly the virus is spreading — and it has more than doubled over the last month.

But with business leaders pushing back against the Democratic governor’s use of that metric in slapping indoor dining bans bars and restaurants on almost the entire state, Illinois’ top doctor urged people to consider the dismal situation facing Illinois.

“People can look at the numbers however they want to make their own calculations and insert their hypotheses, but we’re not going to deny that hospital beds are being used at a higher rate,” Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “Ask any hospital executive across the state.”

“We still have the pen and the ink to author new chapters in this already sad, nonfictional narrative. But with our pens and our ink, we can write better chapters, going forward,” Ezike said. “Please wear a mask today.”

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As of Thursday night, 3,092 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide, the most since early June, and a figure that has jumped almost 75% since the beginning of October.

With yet another record-breaking case count, the state has surpassed 400,000 cases over the course of the pandemic. Since March, 402,401 people have tested positive for the virus, or about 3.2% of Illinois’ population.

Nurse Jeanette Averett delivers dinner trays in the COVID-19 unit at Roseland Community Hospital in April. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file
Nurse Jeanette Averett delivers dinner trays in the COVID-19 unit at Roseland Community Hospital in April.

Public health officials also announced 36 more deaths have been attributed to the virus, raising the death toll to 9,711. The latest fatalities included a Cook County man in his 40s and 12 other Chicago-area residents.

DuPage, Kane, Kendall, McHenry and Will counties are now among 49 of the state’s 102 counties that are considered to be at a coronavirus “warning level” for various indicators including rising cases, positivity rates, hospitalizations and deaths. That’s actually down from the 51 counties flagged by the state last week.

But as early as next week, the entire state could be facing Pritzker’s controversial “mitigations” that are packing the latest wallop to the state’s decimated bar and restaurant industry. East-Central Illinois was the latest of 10 of the state’s 11 regions to be hit with indoor dining restrictions.

And the only region that hasn’t yet tripped the metrics that trigger Pritzker’s restrictions isn’t far behind. The central Illinois area that includes Peoria jumped to 8.5% Friday, and two more days over 8% will spark a rollback.

With restaurant groups threatening legal action, Pritzker stood by his measures, saying his office has provided business interruption grants to about 2,000 establishments so far that have been impacted by the shutdown.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions at news conference in the South Austin neighborhood earlier this month. Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file
Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions at news conference in the South Austin neighborhood earlier this month.

“The fact is that bars and restaurants are more dangerous places for spread. They’re really amplification points for people who are sick, who go into a bar or restaurant. It’s very easily spread in that environment, as many many studies have shown,” Pritzker said.

Critics including Mayor Lori Lightfoot argue that private gatherings are driving much of the state’s resurgence. Ahead of Halloween weekend, Ezike urged people to turn down invites to any parties.

“Halloween parties are just not likely to be safe, so let’s do the right thing so that our next holidays will not give us a reason to mourn,” she said.

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