Record-high Illinois COVID-19 caseload, hospitalizations and positive test rate rising: ‘We are in a new wave’

The state’s average testing positivity rate, which indicates how rapidly the virus is spreading, has jumped up to 5.1% from 4.9% a day earlier — and it’s almost two full percentage points higher than it was less than two weeks ago.

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People get tested for COVID-19 at the drive-thru testing site at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy in Little Village in October 2020.

People get tested for COVID-19 at the drive-thru testing site at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy in Little Village on Thursday.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

Illinois suffered a second straight record-shattering day with 4,554 new coronavirus cases reported Friday, a third of the state has reached a COVID-19 “warning level,” and testing positivity rates are darting up across the board.

“I am deeply concerned. Let me be clear: We are in a new wave here,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. “Anybody that hasn’t noticed this, turn on the television. We’re in a new wave of COVID-19 — rising cases, rising positivity, all across the nation.”

Indiana and Wisconsin have joined Illinois in logging their highest new case counts of the entire pandemic on successive days, as the Midwest has become a focal point of the United States’ latest coronavirus flareup.

This state’s latest gargantuan caseload was reported among a record-high 87,759 tests submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health — but it was still enough to raise the state’s seven-day average testing positivity rate over the 5% mark for the first time since early June, when the state was easing down from its initial peak of the COVID-19 crisis.

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The positivity rate, which indicates how rapidly the virus is spreading, jumped to 5.1% from 4.9% a day earlier when the state announced the previous high of 4,015 daily cases. It’s almost 2 full percentage points higher than it was less than two weeks ago, and more than double the rate in July.

“This number makes it look like we’re headed for a new peak,” University of Chicago epidemiologist Dr. Emily Landon said of the previous record case tally on Thursday. “And this mountain looks even taller than the last one.”

Public health officials also attributed 38 more deaths to the virus statewide, including a Cook County woman in her 40s and 13 other Chicago-area residents.

On top of that, Illinois hospitals are treating more coronavirus patients — 2,016 — than they have since mid-June. Of those, 410 people were receiving intensive care as of Thursday night, with 151 using ventilators.

Nurses talk to each other before treating a COVID-19 patient at Roseland Community Hospital in 2020.

Nurses talk to each other before treating a COVID-19 patient at Roseland Community Hospital in April.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Illinois has topped 4,000 daily coronavirus cases just three times during the pandemic and before Thursday hadn’t hit that mark since mid-May, during the worst days of the crisis.

The state’s testing capacity has expanded dramatically since then, which is one factor behind the recent sky-high case numbers. The current average testing positivity rate still isn’t approaching the dangerous highs near 20% the state saw in May.

But more troubling, experts say, is the quick uptick in positivity.

Illinois generally has fared better than its neighboring states in testing capacity and positivity rates since March, and Pritzker again pointed to them as one driver of this state’s growing problem.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference Friday in Elgin.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference Friday in Elgin.

State of Illinois live stream

“Three of the worst five states in the country are bordering Illinois: Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin,” the Democratic governor said at an Elgin news conference. “But either way, we are challenged to try to maintain our positivity rate at a lower number to keep people from getting COVID-19. But we’re going to work very, very hard to remind people, and I’ll say it one more time as I stand here: Please wear a mask.”

The governor’s health team says much of the problem is in Illinois’ own backyard, though, as the state Department of Public Health announced 34 of the state’s 102 counties are hitting their criteria to be considered at a coronavirus warning level.

That is the most counties ever flagged by the state, as officials say they’re seeing many of the same frustrating signs they’ve seen for weeks: “businesses blatantly disregarding mitigation measures, people not social distancing, gathering in large groups and not using face coverings,” according to an agency statement.

“Warning-level” counties are marked orange.

“Warning-level” counties are marked orange.

Illinois Department of Public Health

Most of the warning-level counties are outside the Chicago area, with a cluster along the northern border and downstate.

But the list does include Kane and Will counties, which each saw weekly increases in cases and deaths, and McHenry County, which saw cases and testing positivity rates rise.

The other warning-level counties are Adams, Alexander, Boone, Cass, Christian, Clay, Clinton, Crawford, DeKalb, DeWitt, Jasper, Jefferson, Jo Daviess, Johnson, Lee, Macon, McDonough, Mercer, Monroe, Pike, Pulaski, Randolph, Saline, Stephenson, Union, Vermilion, Warren, Washington, Wayne, Whiteside and Winnebago.

Many of their outbreaks have been traced to weddings, funerals, college parties, college sports, and bars and clubs.

Chicago’s regional positivity rate has climbed five straight days, up to 5.4%. Suburban Cook County has edged upward for eight days, now at 6.3%.

Pritzker said he’s sticking to his current reopening plan, which doesn’t call for restrictions on indoor bar and restaurant service unless a region hits 8% positivity for three consecutive days.

The northwest corner of the state is the only region currently facing those “mitigation” efforts as it has soared to 10.6% positivity.

Since March, at least 336,174 people have contracted the virus among more than 6.6 million tests administered statewide. Of those, 9,165 people have died.

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