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State’s deadliest day in months called sad result of ‘new wave’ of COVID-19 cases: ‘You will get to more deaths’

“We should understand that that’s always the pattern: A certain number of cases will go on to be hospitalizations, a certain number of hospitalizations will go on to be deaths,” Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said.

Nurse practitioner Capri Rees, left, looks at the monitor for a heart rhythm while respiratory therapist Khafran Alshahin performs chest compressions on an 80-year-old man who ultimately died from COVID-19 at Roseland Community Hospital in April of 2020.
Nurse practitioner Capri Rees, left, looks at the monitor for a heart rhythm while respiratory therapist Khafran Alshahin performs chest compressions on an 80-year-old man suffering from COVID-19 at Roseland Community Hospital in April.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

The coronavirus claimed more lives than it has on any other day in Illinois over the past four months, as public health officials on Wednesday attributed 69 additional deaths to COVID-19.

It’s the most in a single day since the 84 deaths recorded June 17, back when the state was coming down from its initial peak of the pandemic.

More than 2,900 people have died with the virus statewide since then, and Illinois’ overall pandemic death toll stands at 9,345 with the state facing a “new wave” of surging coronavirus cases, according to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s health team.

“We should understand that that’s always the pattern: A certain number of cases will go on to be hospitalizations, a certain number of hospitalizations will go on to be deaths,” Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “The more cases, eventually you will get to more deaths, and so the spike in cases that we’ve been seeing over the last six weeks, yes, unfortunately, it is turning into additional mortalities.”

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The Illinois Department of Public Health announced 4,342 more people tested positive for the deadly virus, the second-highest daily tally of the pandemic. That marks 15 consecutive days that the state has recorded 2,000 or more new cases.

As of Tuesday night, 2,338 Illinois coronavirus patients were hospitalized — the most being treated on any night since June 10 — while the state has averaged 34 deaths per day over the past two weeks, up from about 21 deaths per day this time last month.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a Jan. 30 news conference.
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a Jan. 30 news conference.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

While the state’s expanded testing capacity is one factor behind recent sky-high case counts, the percentage of people testing positive is going “in the wrong direction,” Ezike said.

The latest cases were confirmed among 66,791 tests, raising the seven-day average statewide testing positivity rate to 5.7% — up from 3.3% a little over two weeks ago, and as high as it’s been since early June.

By the end of this week, COVID-19 restrictions ordered by Pritzker will be in place in four of the state’s 11 regions — including Chicago’s south and west suburbs in Kankakee, Will, Kane and DuPage counties — due to rising testing positivity rates.

All other regions are at or over 7% positivity and trending steadily upward toward the 8% threshold set by the Democratic governor that triggers restrictions. That includes Chicago and the rest of its suburbs.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions from the media in the South Austin neighborhood on  Wednesday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions from the media in the South Austin neighborhood on Wednesday.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“People are lowering their guard,” Pritzker said at his latest coronavirus briefing. “Wear the mask. If there’s nothing else that you hear me say, today and everyday, please wear the mask. Keep social distance.”

While the Democratic governor tries to rein in the viral rebound, his office also is looking ahead to preparations for distributing a potential coronavirus vaccine statewide. Pritzker’s office began reaching out to local health departments Wednesday with preliminary information on the state’s “vaccine rollout framework,” much of which is still dependent on when — and if — a federally approved vaccine becomes available in the near future, and how many doses it will require.

Pritzker said the state’s plan is “designed to provide an equitable distribution across the state,” with priority given “to our most vulnerable populations” including health care workers, first responders and nursing home staffers and residents.

“Illinois will not distribute a vaccine until we have one that is proven safe and effective,” Pritzker said. “We have a highly qualified team of experts from the private and public sectors teamed up to evaluate the public data and process when the vaccine data is made available over the coming weeks or months, and I’ll make sure that you can hear from them when the time comes.”

Since March, almost 7 million coronavirus tests have been administered statewide, with a 97% recovery rate among 355,217 people confirmed to carry the virus.