Pritzker warns public, pols on COVID-19 precautions: ‘If things don’t change, a reversal is where we’re headed’

“We are far, far from out of the woods,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. “We’ve made progress in Illinois, but we’ve also seen that it can be fleeting, and right now things are not heading in the right direction.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker talks to residents at a mobile COVID-19 testing station at Edward Coles School in Chicago July 8.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker talks to residents at a mobile COVID-19 testing station at Edward Coles School in Chicago July 8.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

A month after Illinois entered its latest phase of reopening, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday warned that another round of closures could be on tap if residents don’t take health precautions more seriously to stem the state’s steady rise in coronavirus cases.

“We are far, far from out of the woods,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said during a Loop news conference.

“We’ve made progress in Illinois, but we’ve also seen that it can be fleeting. And right now, things are not heading in the right direction. I want to remind everyone that it doesn’t take long at all for a trajectory of success to turn into rising hospitalizations and deaths.

“And if things don’t change, a reversal is where we’re headed,” Pritzker said.

The Democratic governor offered his grim prognosis as the Illinois Department of Public Health announced the latest 1,393 cases of COVID-19 confirmed among 38,187 tests. That kept the state’s testing positivity rate over the last week at 3.8%, but raised July’s daily average to more than 1,100 new cases reported per day, compared to 764 per day last month.

The state’s positivity rate — which experts say indicates how rapidly the virus is spreading through a region — was 2.7% on June 26, when most businesses, restaurants and bars were allowed to resume operations with the fourth phase of Pritzker’s reopening plan.

Since then, the state has logged almost 35,000 new cases, compared to about 26,000 over the previous 30 days when Illinois’ pandemic curve appeared to flatten.

Health officials on Wednesday also announced 18 more deaths have been attributed to the virus, raising Illinois’ toll to 7,462. More than 175,000 people have tested positive for the virus over the last four months, among 2.6 million who have been tested.

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A week after Pritzker’s office singled out a handful of “warning level” counties across the state for outbreaks tied to “business and risky behavior,” the governor said the downstate Metro East region is still on the brink of a state intervention that could include business shutdowns as its positivity rate hovers just below 8%.

“If you’re a local elected official, and your local numbers are rising, it’s time to step up and impose stricter mitigations,” Pritzker said. “Residents should hold your elected leaders accountable. Demand that they take action, because if they don’t, they could send the entire region back to closed bars and closed restaurants, stricter limits on gatherings, or even another stay-at-home order.”

Protesters listen to William Kelly, host of the Citizen Kelly Show, as he speaks about suing Gov. JB Pritzker over COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday, July 25, 2020 in Springfield.

Protesters listen to William Kelly, host of the Citizen Kelly Show, as he speaks about suing Gov. JB Pritzker over COVID-19 restrictions during the “Million Unmasked March” at the Illinois State Capitol on Saturday in Springfield.

The State Journal-Register, distributed by the Associated Press

Pritzker’s office also issued a set of guidelines restricting youth sports that effectively pushed back the high school football season and many other sports back to at least February, with the governor saying “it’s obvious that there won’t be enough protection for kids on our school playing fields.”

In all, six of the 11 regions in Illinois — including suburban Cook County — have each had a consecutive week or more with rising testing positivity rates, and could face such state “mitigation” efforts if hospital admissions increase.

Beyond Illinois’ gradual case rise, admissions have ticked upward statewide over the past several weeks. As of Tuesday night, 1,491 Illinois coronavirus patients were hospitalized, with 355 in intensive care units and 152 on ventilators.

Those are “clearly indicators that we are headed in the wrong direction,” according to Illinois Public Health Director Dr Ngozi Ezike, who called on residents to follow three “simple truths.”

“Watching your distance, wearing a face covering and washing your hands — that’s what we can all do to protect ourselves, our families, our friends, our community, our state.”

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