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Pritzker says indoor dining could be on the menu in south suburbs as COVID-19 numbers improve: ‘We’re all rooting for them’

The state’s average testing positivity rate rose slightly to 3.7%, but that’s still down almost a full percentage point from two weeks ago.

Dozens of people dine outside Tavern on Rush in Gold Coast in July.
Dozens of people dine outside Tavern on Rush in Gold Coast Saturday, July 4, 2020.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Gov. J.B. Pritzker might soon lift the coronavirus timeout he imposed last month on the far south suburbs, as public health officials on Thursday announced the latest set of generally encouraging COVID-19 numbers.

Another 1,941 people statewide were confirmed to carry the virus among 52,311 tests submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health. That raised the state’s testing positivity rate over the last week by a notch to 3.7%, but that key gauge of how quickly the virus is spreading is still down almost a full percentage point over the last two weeks.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a press conference Wednesday at the Thompson Center.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a press conference Wednesday at the Thompson Center.
State of Illinois live stream

And it’s sunk to 6.4% in Will and Kankakee counties, where Pritzker banned indoor dining in late August after positivity rates soared over 8% across the region. If it stays below 6.5% for three days, restrictions will be lifted.

“Masks, distance, hand-washing, enforcement — it all works, and Will and Kankakee counties are, so far, getting the job done. And we’re all rooting for them,” the Democratic governor said during a Loop news conference.

Most of the state’s 11 regions have seen stable or declining positivity rates over the last two weeks, including the downstate Metro East region, the first one that Pritzker’s health team clamped down on as rates jumped to double digits. It’s down to 8.9%, which the governor called “a testament to the fact that these doctor-recommended mitigations can work if they are followed.”

All Chicago-area regions are below 6.5%, with the city at 5.1% and suburban Cook County at 5.5%.

But the Illinois Department of Public Health also announced its worst daily COVID-19 death toll since the start of month as the virus claimed 35 more lives, including a Cook County man in his 30s. Since March, 8,367 people have died after contracting the coronavirus.

Among almost 4.9 million tests administered, 266,151 Illinoisans have tested positive for COVID-19. As of Tuesday night, 1,565 Illinois coronavirus patients were hospitalized, with 345 in intensive care units and 143 on ventilators.

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With a more predictable virus season arriving during the heart of a pandemic, Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike urged residents to get a flu shot.

“One of the things we clearly don’t want to see is what it looks like to have the co-infection of influenza and COVID-19,” she said, adding that tending to residents’ mental health is equally important.

“This is probably the hardest time for almost everyone in this state and around the world. If you feel overwhelmed by stress and anxiety, please seek mental health services,” Ezike said. “It’s not a sign of weakness, but of strength. It takes strength to ask for help. And right now we could all use some form of assistance in one form or another.”

City health chief worries vaccine could become political

During a virtual meeting of the City Council’s Health and Human Relations Committee called to update aldermen on the city’s response to the coronavirus, Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said she’s concerned about all of the “misinformation out there.”

“In the same way that masks have been politicized, I’m worried that the vaccine may be politicized, particularly heading into the federal election,” Arwady said.

“We want to have calm, sober messaging based on science here in Chicago about vaccines, how they work, how we know we can trust them, when will we know that a vaccine is sort of something that we can recommend for Chicagoans. We’ll be working very hard on an uptick in trust there.”

Getting what Arwady called “good vaccine uptake” in Chicago, will be a primary focus next year.

“If we can do this more successfully than other cities, we will sooner be able to emerge. We will sooner be able to kind of be … economically competitive again. ... Plus we’ll save lives, more importantly,” the commissioner said.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said her North Side constituents don’t like that the pandemic and all of its closures, restrictions and inconveniences have dragged on.

“It’s really hurting our economy. It’s hurting everyday life and our schools,” Smith told Arwady.

“The single thing that seems to help stop the spread is to have people wear masks. … Wouldn’t having a stronger mask mandate at this point help to bring down our numbers to the numbers we need to get so we can open more of the economy?”

Arwady noted Illinois already has a mask requirement for everyone over the age of two and enforcement in “indoor public settings” has been “very good.”

The city acts on complaints about public spaces, Arwady said, but “I can’t frankly mandate mask-wearing in private settings. And where we are seeing the most spread now is in households and social private gatherings and people getting together for birthdays and barbecues and block clubs. All of the things that we love.”