Coronavirus Christmas? State’s top doc says keep gatherings virtual: ‘Let’s give the gift of health’
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike is urging families to start planning now for their video-conference Kwanzaas, Google Hangouts Hanukkahs, Facetime Christmas tidings and other socially distant celebrations.
The first doses of coronavirus vaccine will likely arrive in Illinois in a few days, but not soon enough for anyone to gather safely for the holidays.
So two weeks after a Zoom Thanksgiving, the state’s top doctor is urging families to start planning now for their video-conference Kwanzaas, Google Hangouts Hanukkahs, Facetime Christmas tidings and other socially distant celebrations.
Chicago and other parts of the state have already seen holiday-related upticks in COVID-19 infection rates, with hospitals on Wednesday reporting their biggest one-day jump in coronavirus patients since reaching an all-time high before Thanksgiving.
It’ll only get worse if people let their guard down with the vaccine — and a return to normalcy — tantalizingly close, Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike warned.
“If we’ve made it this far in the pandemic with the finish line starting to come into sight, you deserve for you and your family and your friends to make it all the way to the other side,” Ezike said. “Let’s give the gift of health this holiday season. We’ve come too far to give it up now.”
That means canceling travel plans, sticking to virtual celebrations and strictly limiting in-person gatherings to people in your immediate household.
“A negative test does not give you an ‘all clear’ forever and ever to gather with friends and family,” Ezike said.
For those intent on getting the family together against experts’ pleas, groups should be kept as small as possible, for as little time as possible, and outdoors if feasible, or else with increased ventilation, she said. And the mask has to stay on.
“Would it kill you to wear a mask indoors? No, it won’t, but not wearing one could kill someone,” Ezike said.
The virus killed 179 more people by Wednesday, officials said, marking the fifth-highest daily death count of the pandemic. The latest fatalities included 61 Cook County residents and 27 more from elsewhere across the Chicago area.
Wednesday’s toll trails only the spring peak of 191 and the three worst days of the pandemic, all of which have been tallied over the last week — capped by the grisly record of 238 COVID-19 deaths reported Dec. 2.
The respiratory disease has claimed 13,666 Illinois lives since early March — about 52 lives lost each day. At least 812,430 people have contracted the virus over the past nine months.
Recent case numbers, while still dwarfing spring figures, have suggested the state might be easing down from its record-setting autumn resurgence. The latest 8,256 infections reported statewide were diagnosed among 92,737 tests, decreasing the average positivity rate to 9.6%, its lowest point in almost five weeks.
Hospital admissions had been steadily decreasing since Nov. 20, but by Tuesday night, 5,284 Illinois hospital beds were occupied by coronavirus patients, an increase of 85 from the previous night. That included an increase of 105 intensive care patients (raising the total to 1,176), and 21 more patients requiring ventilators (raising that total to 647).
Statewide, 596 ICU beds were still open, but only 14 of those were available for the 20 counties that make up the southern Illinois region. Eighteen were available in the downstate Metro East region, which comprises seven counties.
The state still might not yet be feeling the full effects of Thanksgiving transmission. Positivity rates have gradually increased in suburban Cook County and Chicago since the holiday, now up to 12.7% and 12.8%, respectively.
If the Pfizer vaccine receives federal approval as expected Thursday, the state is slated to receive about 109,000 doses within a few days. The first doses will go to frontline health care workers.
“Even with all the well deserved excitement around a vaccine right now, it will be months before vaccines are available to the general public,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. “So it’s incredibly important that we do everything in our power to temper the spread of this virus in the coming weeks and months.”