Pritzker blames ‘virus deniers’ as state sees highest daily COVID-19 caseload since early June: ‘The enemy is you’

“Choosing to go out in public without a mask is not a political statement,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. “It demonstrates a callous disregard for the people in your community and in your county and in our state and in our nation.”

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker puts away his face mask before delivering his daily Illinois coronavirus update at the Thompson Center in April.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker puts away his face mask before delivering his daily Illinois coronavirus update at the Thompson Center in April.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Illinois sees its worst day for new coronavirus cases in more than seven weeks, the testing positivity rate steadily rises — and Gov. J.B. Pritzker sees only one place to point the finger.

“The enemy is not your mask. If you’re not wearing a mask in public, you’re endangering everyone around you, so the enemy is you,” the Democratic governor said Wednesday.

It was his most dire warning yet that Illinois could soon see a devastating resurgence of COVID-19 cases if residents — including “virus deniers” — don’t take precautions more seriously.

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“The deadly nature of this virus is not a hoax. Choosing to go out in public without a mask is not a political statement,” Pritzker said during a Loop news conference. “It demonstrates a callous disregard for the people in your community and in your county and in our state and in our nation.”

A week after expressing worry over a “mild uptick” in Illinois coronavirus cases, Pritzker said “our numbers now appear to be gradually rising, and that’s very concerning.”

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The Illinois Department of Public Health confirmed an additional 1,598 cases of the virus statewide on Wednesday, the highest total announced in a single day since early June.

The daily caseloads are creeping closer to those of May, when the state endured its peak impact of the pandemic with an average of more than 2,100 cases announced per day.

That rate shrank to about a third of that in June — about 764 new cases per day — but Illinois has now averaged more than 1,000 cases daily so far this month.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks Thursday at the Thompson Center.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks Thursday at the Thompson Center.

Provided

The latest cases were confirmed among 39,633 tests, raising the state’s rolling positivity rate over the last week to 3.2%. That number, which health officials point to as an indicator of how fast the virus is spreading through a region, was at 2.5% two weeks ago.

Illinois’ positivity rate is still about half those of its neighboring states, a fifth of Texas’ rate and a sixth of Florida’s — a pair of many southern states where cases have flared to record highs over the last month.

“A rise is still a rise, and it is on all of us to bring these numbers down,” Pritzker said. “In every one of the states like Arizona and Florida that are in full-blown crisis right now, it started with a gradual rise in the numbers. … You can go from 3% positivity to Arizona’s 23% positivity in the blink of an eye.”

Jabari Leeper gets tested for COVID-19 at a mobile COVID-19 testing station at Edward Coles School earlier this month.

Jabari Leeper gets tested for COVID-19 at a mobile COVID-19 testing station at Edward Coles School earlier this month.

Anthony Vazquez /Sun-Times file

Ten of 11 regions across the state each have fallen below 5% positivity rates, but the Metro East region near St. Louis “is coming dangerously close” to an 8% rate, Pritzker said. He’s asked local leaders there “to clamp down on the outbreaks where they’re occurring so the state won’t have to step in,” potentially shutting down some businesses.

Health officials on Wednesday also attributed another 23 deaths to COVID-19, raising the state’s death toll to 7,347. More than 165,000 people have contracted the virus among 2.3 million who have been tested.

Still, the governor touted “tremendous progress” made in Illinois since March, including launching 280 testing sites that comprise one of the nation’s largest programs.

And about 1,600 contact tracers are now working across the state to pinpoint sources of outbreaks and alert residents to potential exposures. A spokeswoman for Pritzker’s health department announced it’s bolstering those efforts with more than $200 million in additional state funding to local health departments and community organizations to expand tracing outside Cook County.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said she anticipated a rise in cases when the state entered Phase 4 of reopening June 26, and emphasized that containing the virus’ spread is now up to “the efforts of everyday people to do their part”

“You probably have seen people crowding into bars, areas where people are not wearing masks, or not maintaining 6 feet of social distance,” Ezike said, comparing those “simple measures” to wearing a seatbelt.

“This is not about restricting freedom; this is about decreasing the transmission of this virus, which ultimately saves lives. It’s that plain and that simple. This is about your actions and what you can do to keep your community safe.”

Contributing: Brett Chase, whose reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.


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