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Dipping COVID-19 numbers put Illinois in ‘decent position,’ but Pritzker urges staying the course: ‘We can’t outrun this virus’

“Unless we get it under control, either by people following the doctors’ recommended mitigations [of wearing face masks and social distancing] or with an effective treatment or a vaccine, we will be fighting to save the Titanic with a plastic bucket,” Pritzker said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers a reporter’s question during a news conference in Rockford on Thursday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers a reporter’s question during a news conference in Rockford on Thursday.
Scott P. Yates/Rockford Register Star via AP

Even as public health officials announced another 1,953 Illinoisans have contracted COVID-19, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday he’s “pleased” with the way the state’s coronavirus numbers have trended over the last week.

That’s because with a booming increase in testing, positivity rates have gone down in most regions — despite the state logging some of its largest-ever daily case numbers last weekend.

The latest caseload is about average for the state over the last month, with roughly 1,957 new coronavirus cases reported per day by the Illinois Department of Public Health since Aug. 12.

They were confirmed among 48,982 tests, raising the statewide seven-day positivity rate by a tenth of a percentage point to 3.8%. On Wednesday, that number, which indicates how rapidly the virus is spreading, fell below 4% for the first time in almost two months.

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But officials on Thursday also announced the virus has killed 28 more residents, well above the state’s 30-day average of about 20 lives claimed per day — and a reminder that “we can’t outrun this virus,” Pritzker said.

“It hasn’t gone away. We can’t pretend that we can fully restore our economic vitality as long as it’s here without any way to temper or prevent it,” the Democratic governor said at a Loop news conference. “Unless we get it under control, either by people following the doctors’ recommended mitigations [of wearing face masks and social distancing] or with an effective treatment or a vaccine, we will be fighting to save the Titanic with a plastic bucket.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks Thursday at the Thompson Center in the Loop.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks Thursday at the Thompson Center in the Loop.
Screenshot of State of Illinois live stream

That “economic vitality” won’t be returning soon to the downstate Metro East region. Almost a month after Pritzker’s health team imposed business restrictions because the region hit a positivity rate of 8%, it has jumped to 10.1%.

But the governor praised the Will-Kankakee county region, which has lowered its positivity to 7.5% after similar mitigations were imposed. Pritzker said he hopes the far south suburban region “might become a testament to the community’s ability to turn the ship around in the right direction” — and said indoor dining eventually might be allowed to resume there “if they keep up the good work.”

Regional positivity rates are at 5.1% in Chicago; 6.2% in suburban Cook County; 6.3% in Lake and McHenry counties; and 5.5% in Kane and DuPage counties.

Pritzker bristled at the suggestion that the state’s summertime resurgence might be limited to young people who don’t suffer serious symptoms.

“When people are just running around asymptomatic, and if they’re not getting tested but they are positive, they’re spreading it to other people,” he said. “And the result is that [the virus] is going into environments in which people who are vulnerable are going to be sick and are going to go to the hospital.”

As of Wednesday night, 1,609 Illinois coronavirus patients were hospitalized, with 346 in intensive care units and 141 on ventilators. Those numbers are well within the state’s hospital capacity, but COVID-19 admissions have inched upward since July.

“We’re in a decent position right now, but again, we have to keep our positivity rates down and our infection rates down so that we don’t have an increase,” Pritzker said.

Since March, almost 4.6 million coronavirus tests have been administered in Illinois. A total of 255,643 people have tested positive, and 8,242 of those have died.