With holidays ahead, Pritzker says Illinois has ‘long way to go’ to escape COVID-19 ‘danger zone’

“These next four weeks may be the most crucial month of this entire pandemic,” the governor said. “We quite literally have very limited leeway in our hospital systems to manage another surge.”

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a daily COVID-19 update at the James R. Thompson Center last week.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a daily COVID-19 update at the James R. Thompson Center last week.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday the bulk of Thanksgiving-related hospitalizations for the coronavirus likely still lie ahead — as he warned that hospitals have “limited leeway” to handle another surge as the state moves into the winter holiday season.

Pritzker said the two seven-day average positivity rates that public health officials watch have remained around 10% and 12%, and while officials haven’t seen positivity rates start to creep back up — which is a good sign — those metrics also haven’t fallen substantially — which is not a good sign.

The governor said that may be because of mitigations he put in place last month, but “we won’t know that for sure for at least two more weeks.”

“Our COVID-19 hospitalization total statewide is still 14% higher than our spring peak,” Pritzker said, explaining that the ability of the state’s hospitals to handle another surge is “tighter than it was last spring.

“It’s likely too early for us to have yet seen the bulk of Thanksgiving-related hospitalizations, yet,” Pritzker said. “These next four weeks may be the most crucial month of this entire pandemic. We quite literally have very limited leeway in our hospital systems to manage another surge. So mask up, keep your distance and plan smaller, more intimate holidays this year.”

A nurse takes her gloves off as she walks out of a COVID-19 patient’s room at Roseland Community Hospital in April of 2020.

A nurse takes her gloves off as she walks out of a COVID-19 patient’s room in April at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

The warning came as Illinois health officials reported 8,691 new and probable cases of the coronavirus Monday, as well as 90 additional deaths.

Those new cases come from a batch of 77,569 tests done in the past 24 hours. Sixty-three of the deaths reported Monday were recorded in Cook County, including 13 deaths of men in their 80s.

As of Sunday night, 5,190 people were hospitalized statewide with the virus. Of that number, 1,123 patients were in intensive care units, and 648 patients were on ventilators.

Illinois is now averaging 152 deaths per day from COVID-19, Pritzker said at his Monday briefing on the virus. That’s an average of 35 more deaths per day than the worst seven-day rates that state reached back in the spring.

The governor said he’s “hopeful” that some of the recent improvements in the state’s coronavirus trends will continue, but ”the numbers still have a long way to go to move away from what could reasonably be called the danger zone.

“In other words, the surge on top of a surge that national experts have said might define the holiday season is still the focus of our attention,” Pritzker said.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, who leads the Illinois Department of Public Health, said officials should be able to see “by the end of this week and next week” what impact the holiday may have on caseloads.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike answers questions from the media last  year.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike answers questions from the media last week.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

The state reported 7,598 new cases of the virus and 76 deaths Sunday, breaking a five-day streak of triple-digit daily death tolls.

Pritzker said last week the state is still “in a precarious place” and none of the state’s 11 regions will be removed from the stricter coronavirus mitigations he put in place last month as officials evaluate any potential Thanksgiving effect on the state’s caseload.

Preparing for a post-Thanksgiving surge, health officials said cases attributed to people who may have gathered for the holiday could begin appearing in the data as early as last week.

The state saw an all-time high of 15,415 new cases on Nov. 13. Days later, Pritzker announced the closures of museums, theaters and casinos across Illinois among a slew of other business restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, though those restrictions stopped well short of a second statewide stay-at-home order.

The Tier 3 mitigations also include reducing capacity limits at big-box stores and most other retailers from 50% to 25%. Grocery stores and pharmacies remain at the 50% capacity limits that were already in place.

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