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As COVID continues to surge, some suburban areas get 10-person limit on gatherings

“The virus is winning the war right now,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in announcing the tighter restrictions Monday in Will, Kankakee, Kane and DuPage counties. They also will apply in parts of southern Illinois.

Workers with the CORE disaster relief organization started by actor and activist Sean Penn teach people how to administer their own nasopharyngeal swab samples to test for the coronavirus at a new drive-thru testing site at Dr. Jorge Prieto Math and Science Academy, 2231 N. Central Ave. on the Northwest Side, Monday morning, May 18, 2020.
Illinois is averaging about 9,710 new infections each day this month, up sharply from October’s daily average of 3,777.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

As COVID-19 continues to spread at a startling rate in Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday announced that suburbs to the south and west of Cook County, as well as part of southern Illinois, will face tighter restrictions beginning Wednesday.

Restrictions include a prohibition of gatherings of more than 10 people for both indoor and outdoor spaces and a six-per-party limit for outdoor restaurant and bar service.

The southern suburbs are in Will and Kankakee counties, which make up Region 7 on the state’s COVID map. The western suburbs are in Kane and DuPage counties, known as Region 8. The state’s southern tip is Region 5.

Positivity rates in each region have climbed in recent days. Of the three, Region 7 in the south suburbs was experiencing the worst seven day infection average: 16.4% as of Friday.

The announcement came as state health officials announced 10,573 new coronavirus cases, marking the fourth consecutive day Illinois has recorded a five-figure caseload.

“As the weather turns cooler and more activity is driven inside, we may have a real problem on our hands,” Pritzker said.

“Our new daily cases are up nearly 380% since Oct. 1, our statewide test positivity is up over 180% in the last five weeks and both our statewide COVID hospitalizations and deaths per day are up more than 150 percent in the same time period,” Pritzker said.

“The virus is winning the war right now,” he said.

Prior to Pritzker’s announcement at a Monday news conference, Region 1, in the northwest corner of Illinois, was the only one of the state’s 11 regions to be placed on “tier two” mitigation measures.

The region has faced tougher restrictions since late October with little success; the infection rate remains above 17%.

Pritzker blamed the lack of progress on the fact that the region borders Wisconsin and Iowa, where virus spread is exponentially worse.

State health officials also reported 14 coronavirus-related deaths on Monday, raising Illinois’ death toll to 10,210. Of the new fatalities, two were under age 60.

Illinois is averaging about 9,710 new infections each day this month, up sharply from October’s daily average of 3,777.

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The new infections announced Monday, which bring the state’s total to 498,560 cases over the past nine months, were detected among the latest batch of 64,760 tests. The seven-day average testing positivity rate was 11.4% — up from 8% about a week ago.

The recovery rate for Illinois coronavirus patients is 97%. Most people who contract it show mild or no symptoms.

Chicago, which makes up the entirety of Region 11, has an infection rate of 12.4%, up from 9.5% a week ago. The average daily case load now stands at 1,599, up 41% from the 1,134 cases per day a week ago.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday’s she is “very concerned about the trajectory” of coronavirus cases but not enough to order another stay-at-home shutdown of the city.

Instead, expect a “surgical” strike in specific neighborhoods when additional mitigations are announced later this week.

“When the pandemic first hit Chicago, all of us were kind of scrambling to figure out what was it, how deadly was it, how is it transmitted. We used a lot of broad and, candidly, blunt tools because we were at the very early stages of our learning. We know a lot more now about the virus and how it works,” the mayor said after a groundbreaking in Humboldt Park.

The mayor acknowledged Chicago’s second COVID surge feels the “same or worse” than the initial outbreak that triggered the stay-home shutdown, but she argued there are significant differences.

For one thing, this second outbreak affects “every demographic and age group.” And public health officials have “learned a tremendous amount” about the coronavirus since then.

“We’ve got to use a surgeon’s knife and not a blunt ax. In thinking about the next steps, that is really the mindset that we are taking. We have a sense of what the challenges are. Where in our city — down to the block level and census tract — those challenges are,” she said.

“So the next set of interventions that we will announce are gonna be focused on really trying to make a difference in those areas using tools that we think are the best levers to pull given the challenges that we’re facing. We want to be very smart and strategic and data-driven.”

Lightfoot said she is “obviously very concerned about the trajectory” of Chicago cases and will have “more to say about that later in the week.

In the meantime, Lightfoot implored Chicagoans to wear face masks, avoid social gatherings and settle in for the long-haul, no matter how lonely or isolated they feel.

“No one outside of essential workers should be going into your household. You should not be attending big parties and weddings and other social occasions. That’s a hard thing to say ... but those gatherings where people are violating the rules — it’s going to lead to you or you or me or someone else getting sick, going into the hospital and worse, dying,” she said.

Some Chicago hospitals recently began severely restricting visitors in light of rising COVID-19 cases. Advocate Health Care, the state’s largest health system with 10 hospitals, went to a no-visitor policy last week, though there are a number of exceptions. The visitation restrictions apply to both COVID-19 patients and those in the hospital for other reasons. The exceptions include a parent of a pediatric patient and designated people for emergency room or end of life patients or those with disabilities as well as other special situations.

Rush University Medical Center and University of Illinois Chicago hospitals also recently imposed bans on most visitors.

The Rush policy was tightened at the end of October “as cases across the city began to rise and is driven by the need to limit the risk of spread and to help flatten the curve across the Chicago area,” a hospital spokesman said.

“We’ve got to buckle down on the public health guidance that we know is our only tool until there is a vaccine that is finally authorized, mass-produced and then pushed out, which is not gonna be until sometime deep into next year.”

Also on Monday, Lightfoot said she’s encouraged by the appointment of Dr. Julie Morita, a former commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, to President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force.

But, Lightfoot argued that mayors deserve what they didn’t get under President Donald Trump: a seat at the table.

“Everything that the task force wants to do and implement has to be implemented at the local level,” she said.

Contributing: Brett Chase