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Heed the dire toll of COVID-19 in Illinois as the holidays approach

We are all so weary of this pandemic. But it will take every ounce of our resolve to finally gain control of this thing.

Drive-through testing for COVID-19 takes place in the parking lot at Saucedo Elementary School in Little Village.
Drive-through testing for COVID-19 takes place in the parking lot at Saucedo Elementary School in Little Village.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Nerve-wracking anxiety about the presidential election has overshadowed a more immediate frightening fact: A second surge of COVID-19 is sweeping Illinois and the nation, and it’s already worse than the first.

With no light yet at the end of the tunnel.

“Each day, we are losing more and more of our neighbors to this virus,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday, when Illinois passed a sobering milestone of over 10,000 deaths from COVID-19. “That’s not a trend that’s going to turn around.”

Indeed, the numbers show Illinois soon could be forced to endure another stay-at-home order. And the odds of that grow every day we fail to suppress our stir-craziness and follow public health guidelines meant to curb the virus.

Consider the following:

For two days in a row, Illinois has shattered its daily record for COVID-19 cases, reporting 10,376 new confirmed cases on Friday and 9,935 on Thursday.

That makes for 10 days in a row in which Illinois has reported more than 6,000 confirmed cases a day, thousands more than the previous high of 4,015 cases reported in a single day back in May.

The state’s seven-day positivity rate, a critical number that indicates how rapidly the disease is spreading in the community, has soared to 9.6%, compared to 6.9% a week ago. Public health experts widely view a 5% positivity rate as the threshold indicating the virus is spreading too quickly.

The number of deaths in Illinois, with 49 more reported on Friday, now has reached 10,079. And as the number of severely ill people increases by hundreds a day, fewer than a third of beds in intensive care units and hospitals are now available.

The picture is no better in Chicago, which is reporting an average of 1,430 new cases each day and a positivity rate of 10.9%. Between 70,000 and 105,000 city residents now have “active” COVID cases, Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady has said.

We want to emphasize this as well: ICU beds are filling up. Doctors and nurses are back to pulling long shifts. And the United States, as we noted, is reporting record numbers of cases day after day, with 128,000 on Friday. One forecast estimates the country could report up to 300,00 daily cases by the end of the year.

Mull over those numbers.

Our best public health experts, though roundly ridiculed by the know-nothing crowd, have tried to make us understand that there are two powerful reasons we must get serious about respecting the rules of social distancing, beginning with masks, masks, masks.

First, it’s the fastest way to get life to normal safely. Second, it’s the best way to avoid overwhelming our health care system so that those who do catch the bug can receive the best care possible.

We are all so weary of this pandemic. We’re feeling stir-crazy and perhaps a little more fearful, too, as more than 100,000 new cases of COVID-19 are reported every day nationwide. But it will take every ounce of our resolve to finally gain control of this thing.

“If local leaders don’t step up, if high-risk industries don’t act accordingly, if families don’t put off that gathering or dinner party, if people don’t wear a mask, we’re heading down a very dark, dark path toward where we were last spring,” as Pritzker said Thursday. “Let’s not let that happen.”

That’s a buzzkill message as we move into the holidays. We all look forward to visiting family and friends at Thanksgiving — not a great idea this year — and shopping for gifts. Toasting good cheer via Zoom doesn’t cut it.

But it’s the hard and responsible truth.

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