Land of tears: ‘Desperate’ Illinois health care workers ‘seeing history repeat itself’
“If you’re talking about COVID fatigue from having to keep wearing a mask, think about the COVID fatigue for health care workers, respiratory therapists, who are going to have to go through this whole episode again of trying to fight for people’s lives,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike said.
Ugly case numbers, busy hospitals, shuttering businesses, mounting death tolls and a deadly virus traveling through the air from face to maskless face.
Seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s beginning to feel a lot like March again in the Land of Lincoln.
The state’s top doctor fought back tears Friday while making her most impassioned plea yet for residents to follow basic health guidelines as Illinois’ autumn coronavirus resurgence means many front-line health care workers “are seeing history repeat itself.”
“Excuse me, please,’ Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said, turning her back and pausing for nearly 40 seconds during the daily briefing, as Gov. J.B. Pritker and others offered her tissues.
Ezike apologized when she resumed, acknowledging the difficulty in running a race “when you can’t actually see the endpoint.”
“If you’re talking about COVID fatigue from having to keep wearing a mask, think about the COVID fatigue for health care workers, respiratory therapists, who are going to have to go through this whole episode again of trying to fight for people’s lives, because we couldn’t figure out how to control this virus by doing some of the simple measures that have been prescribed,” Ezike said.
“These people have to go to work every day as the disease is increasing throughout the state, and they’re the ones that will be dying,” Ezike said, as she outlined the latest 3,874 cases of the disease confirmed statewide. The seventh highest caseload of the entire pandemic capped a week of record-breaking infection numbers that sent testing positivity rates shooting up statewide.
“I’m desperate to find the message that will work,” Ezike said. “We don’t have the vaccine yet. But we have a mask, and we’re asking people to use that, and I don’t know what else we can say.”
Friday’s new cases were confirmed among 82,256 tests submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the second highest testing total ever. As a result, the seven-day average statewide positivity rate took a rare move in the right direction — down, just slightly — for the first time since Oct. 4, from 5.7% to 5.6%.
But that’s still up from 3.3% a few weeks ago, while public health officials say half of the state’s 102 counties have hit their designated coronavirus “warning level.”
Officials also announced 31 more deaths have been attributed to the virus, including a Cook County man in his 30s.
The pandemic death toll has risen to 9,418 since March, and it’s poised to balloon at an increasingly troubling rate as Illinois hospitals treat the most coronavirus patients they’ve seen since early June. Nearly 2,500 hospital beds were occupied by coronavirus patients as of Thursday night, with 511 in intensive care units and 197 using ventilators.
During the worst days of the first peak of the pandemic in mid-May, Illinois hospitals were treating close to 5,000 patients per night. That number hovered around 1,400 just a month ago.
Pritzker has pointed to surges in neighboring Midwest states, alleged mismanagement by President Donald Trump’s administration and overall “pandemic fatigue” as drivers of Illinois’ viral rebound.
He’s also blamed outbreaks at “super spreading locations” such as bars and restaurants, where indoor service has been banned in four of the state’s 11 regions — including many of Chicago’s south and west suburbs — for surpassing 8% positivity.
Pritzker’s health team says that’s the case in the 51 warning-level counties where numbers are trending in the wrong direction, including DeKalb, Kane, Kendall, McHenry and Will. Officials have said they’ve observed “businesses blatantly disregarding mitigation measures, people not social distancing, gathering in large groups, and not using face coverings.”
Some restaurant and bar operators have said they’ll blatantly disregard Pritzker’s indoor dining ban that went into effect Friday in the Kane-DuPage County region, which is up to 9.4% positivity, and the Will-Kankakee County region, which is at 9.2%.
Pritzker has vowed to go after potential scofflaws’ liquor and video gambling licenses if citations from Illinois State Police don’t put them in line.
“We’re going to ask the businesses to do as the regulation outlines what they’re supposed to do, and we’ll hold them responsible if they’re not,” Pritzker said.
Chicago is at 7% positivity and suburban Cook County at 7.2%, both rising consistently for a week along with the rest of the state.
More than 7.1 million coronavirus tests have been administered in Illinois, with 364,033 people confirmed to carry the virus over the last seven months — about 2.9% of the state’s population.