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Home for the holidays? Facing ‘COVID storm,’ Pritzker says stay-at-home order ‘seems like where we are heading’

“We’re running out of time, and we’re running out of options. Our growth in new cases is now exponential,” the governor said. “We are seeing current numbers and future projections worse than what we saw in the spring.”

Aerial photo from suburban Berwyn looking towards cloud covered Chicago in March.
Aerial photo from suburban Berwyn looking towards cloud covered Chicago six days after Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s first stay-at-home order went into effect in March.
Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned that another statewide stay-at-home order could soon be on tap if Illinois’ exploding COVID-19 infection numbers keep smashing records as they did for a third straight day on Thursday with 12,702 new cases.

Facing a second coronavirus surge that’s already three times larger than the first one that hit Illinois in the spring, state public health officials are urging people to stay home as much as possible. Pritzker said he wouldn’t hesitate “to take more stringent action” if the latest “COVID storm” doesn’t ease up soon.

“If things don’t take a turn in the coming days, we will quickly reach the point when some form of a mandatory stay-at-home order is all that will be left,” to address the crisis, Pritzker said. “With every fiber of my being, I do not want us to get there, but right now, that seems like where we are heading.”

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“We’re running out of time, and we’re running out of options. Our growth in new cases is now exponential,” the Democratic governor said. “We are seeing current numbers and future projections worse than what we saw in the spring.”

More people have contracted the virus in Illinois over the past 15 days — nearly 140,000 — than during all of summer. And of all 536,542 people who have tested positive in Illinois so far during the eight-month pandemic, almost half of them have been diagnosed just since the beginning of October alone.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens as Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks during a daily COVID-19 update last week.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens as Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks during a daily COVID-19 update last week.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

The latest cases were detected among 100,617 tests, raising Illinois’ seven-day average testing positivity rate to 12.6%. That suggests the virus is spreading twice as fast as it was less than three weeks ago, and almost four times as fast as it was at the beginning of October — “numbers that we never thought possible,” Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said.

The state Department of Public Health also announced 43 more deaths attributed to the virus, raising the state’s pandemic death toll to 10,477. The latest victims included 16 Chicago-area residents.

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And hospitals across the state remain packed with the most COVID-19 patients they’ve ever seen. On Wednesday night, 5,258 hospital beds across the state were taken up by COVID-19 patients, an increase of more than 200 patients from the previous night.

“That number is only going to increase, based on the numbers of cases that we’ve identified for the last several weeks,” Ezike said. “Every metric we have, the cases, the hospitalizations, the ventilator use, the deaths — they’re all going up.”

Pritzker applauded Mayor Lori Lightfoot for handing down a stay-at-home advisory to city residents beginning Monday, which the governor called “a model for action for the rest of the state.”

As for the “few loud anti-maskers” and local leaders who have declined to enforce the state’s mitigation efforts such as indoor dining bans at bars and restaurants, a furious Pritzker asked: “What will it take to make this real for you?”

Demonstrators gather outside of the Thompson Center in May to protest restrictions instituted by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker.
Demonstrators gather outside of the Thompson Center in May to protest restrictions instituted by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker.
Scott Olson/Getty Images file

“Are you waiting for health care workers to get sick to a point where you don’t have enough staff in the local hospital to cover the next shift? What about if the hospitals become so overrun that your sick and your dying have nowhere left to turn?” Pritzker said. “Because I promise you: While you fail to take responsibility in your city and your county, that day is coming closer. And it will be on you.”

Even with encouraging news about development of a vaccine, Pritzker said “a lot of lives can be saved before that happens. … This is the moment to step up and get it right.”