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With cases surging, city urges residents to avoid large Thanksgiving gatherings

“The bottom line: You should not be traveling,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s health commissioner, issuing the city’s strongest language yet on the holidays. “Please do cancel your traditional Thanksgiving plans.”

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, speaks at a City Hall news conference last year.
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, speaks at a June news conference at City Hall.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

Chicago health officials on Tuesday announced seven more deaths from the coronavirus, as the city’s new case numbers and positivity rate continue to climb.

“Right now, COVID is surging across the entire United States, and you run the risk of bringing COVID with you if you’re traveling from Chicago,” Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago’s health commissioner, said Tuesday. “So if you’ve not canceled your Thanksgiving travel plans, now is a good time to be having that really difficult conversation with friends and family.”

Arwady’s plea for residents to stay home comes as the city experienced a 31% increase in daily new coronavirus cases, up from 1,749 last week to 2,296. The city also conducted 15,891 daily tests over the last seven days, 8% more than the 14,707 it did a week ago.

The positivity rate rose from 12.9% to 16% this week.

If Chicagoans rebuff the travel and stay-at-home advisories, Arwady warned, the city could see more than 4,000 cases per day by Thanksgiving.

Arwady reminded the public of the city’s emergency travel order, which requires 14-day quarantines when coming to Chicago from states with higher positivity rates.

“As many as one in 15 Chicagoans has active COVID-19 right now, and that is why the risk of gathering is significant,” Arwady said. “It is why we recommended that you not have anybody over into your home right now that doesn’t need to be there.”

“Please do cancel your traditional Thanksgiving plans,” Arwady said.

Arwady gave exceptions to home health aide and child care services, but people should continue wearing masks. She also urged residents to reschedule those in-home visits if they can.

She hinted additional restrictions will happen in the near future as the current surge isn’t showing signs of relenting.

More than three times as many people are now hospitalized in Chicago’s ICUs with COVID-19 compared with early October, and the number of people on ventilators has quadrupled during that same time, Arwady said.

Chicago health officials are encouraged by the emergence of potential vaccines, but Arwady cautioned residents “it will be months before this vaccine is available.”

Chicago could receive the first batch of the vaccine by the end of the year if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration grants an “emergency use authorization.” Health care workers will be first in line for the drug, which means it won’t be ready for the masses until after the first quarter of 2021.

Last week, as she warned that up to 1,800 more Chicagoans could die by year’s end, Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a 30-day stay-at-home “advisory” and slapped a mandatory, 10-person lid on social gatherings to control a second surge of coronavirus cases that’s worse than the first.

The mayor implored Chicagoans to shake off “COVID fatigue,” avoid unnecessary travel, order small turkeys and resist the temptation to open their homes to extended family.

Illinois public health officials on Tuesday announced 12,601 more coronavirus cases have been identified across the state. Those latest cases were detected among 94,205 tests submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health, keeping the seven-day average testing positivity rate at 12.5%.

Over 300 more hospital beds were taken up by coronavirus patients by Monday night compared to the previous night, reaching a record high of 5,887.

The state is averaging about 5,200 patients with COVID-19 in the state’s hospitals, or about 400 more people than during the state’s highest point in the spring — “a 70% increase in the last two weeks alone,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday.

Pritzker, like Lightfoot the week before, urged Illinois residents to rethink crowded Thanksgiving dinners or the state could “expect much worse.”

Also last week, with cases surging across the country, the city modified its travel order to put states into different categories. People traveling to Chicago, or residents returning to the city, have to follow different rules depending on which states they are coming from.

The new system took effect last week. The updated map, which takes effect Friday, covers 46 states and two territories, all reporting high infection rates.

All nonessential travel is discouraged, but anyone arriving to Chicago from a “red” hot-spot state must self-isolate for two weeks. Travelers coming from orange hot spots must arrive with a recent negative COVID-19 test result or else isolate. Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana are among the current red states, while Michigan, Missouri and Kentucky are orange.

Chicago’s new tiered travel quarantine guide.
Chicago’s new tiered travel quarantine guide.
City of Chicago

Contributing: Mitchell Armentrout

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.