Illinois at ‘make-or-break moment?’ Despite looming COVID-19 storm clouds, Pritzker says, ‘We can lick this thing’

Positivity rates have only dipped slightly in two of Illinois’ 11 regions over the last week, with the state poised to eclipse 200,000 total cases by Thursday.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens during a news conference on the South Side on Monday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens during a news conference on the South Side on Monday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

Another 1,645 people have contracted COVID-19 across Illinois, testing positivity rates are up across much of the state — and “concern is growing each day about the direction our numbers are going,” the state’s top doctor said Wednesday.

“Remember that numbers increasing actually represents people infected with this new virus,” Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “Those people infected with the new virus can go on to get sick, and those people who are sick can go on to be hospitalized, and those people who are hospitalized can go on to have very severe complications up to death.”

The latest cases were confirmed among 42,098 tests, keeping the state’s positivity rate over the last week at 4.1%.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a Wednesday briefing on COVID-19.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a Wednesday briefing on COVID-19.

Illinois.gov/LiveVideo

That number has floated over 4% for the past week after nearly two months without eclipsing that mark, and it’s up from 2.5% a month ago.

Positivity rates have increased or stayed the same in nine of Illinois’ 11 regions over the last week, a red flag for a state that’s reached a “make-or-break moment” with the coronavirus on the rebound, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.

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Wednesday’s caseload is on par with the state’s average of about 1,676 new cases reported per day over the last two weeks. Illinois was averaging 871 cases per day this time last month.

To tamp down on the case rise, the Democratic governor has traveled the state over the last month urging local governments to tighten up enforcement of masking and social distancing guidelines.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at the Thompson Center on Wednesday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at the Thompson Center on Wednesday.

Illinois.gov/LiveVideo

“Otherwise, it will only be a matter of time before the state will be forced to step in and roll things back on a regional basis, something none of us wants,” Pritzker said. “We can lick this thing. If people will just follow those basic rules, we can get our transmission rates down significantly.”

Pritzker’s office declared a win in that effort Tuesday when a legislative committee failed to suspend the governor’s new set of rules that give local authorities more leeway to fine businesses that flout the guidelines.

While case counts have ticked steadily upward, death totals have leveled off — for now.

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Wednesday announced 16 more coronavirus-positive residents have died, raising the state’s pandemic death toll to 7,672.

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An average of 17 Illinoisans have succumbed to the virus daily over the last month, down from about 30 fatalities per day over the previous 30-day stretch.

That’s expected to change over the next month after an uptick in hospitalizations since early July, as younger carriers transmit the virus to older residents who are more susceptible, according to infectious disease experts at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago.

Nurse Jeanette Averett comforts a 56-year-old woman suffering from COVID-19 at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side in April.

Nurse Jeanette Averett comforts a 56-year-old woman suffering from COVID-19 at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side in April.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

As of Tuesday night, 1,525 Illinois coronavirus patients were hospitalized, with 357 in intensive care units and 129 on ventilators.

Illinois is on pace to top 200,000 overall cases by Thursday, since the state began tracking cases in early March.

Of nearly 3.2 million people who have been tested, 198,593 have received positive results, with a 95% recovery rate.

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