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Pritzker touts state’s COVID-19 testing as best ‘between the two coasts,’ but warns of looming trouble for Rockford, Galena area

The state reporting more than 74,000 tests over the weekend — a new high — comes as it logs an additional 22 deaths and 1,848 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases to 279,114.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker walks out with state Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike for a news conference in Springfield on Monday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker walks out with state Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike for a news conference in Springfield on Monday.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

Gov. J.B. Pritzker patted the state on back Wednesday for hitting new records in testing for COVID-19, but wagged a warning finger at northwestern Illinois for its stubborn climb toward troubling numbers.

“At this point we are by far the best testing state in the Midwest, and the best testing state between the two coasts,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker said the state set a new high for testing over the weekend, reporting more than 74,000 tests in a one-day period, making Illinois one of the first states to pass a total of 5 million tests. The state has averaged 52,000 tests a day over the last week, Pritzker said.

The announcement came as Illinois saw an additional 22 deaths from COVID-19 and 1,848 new cases, bringing the state’s death toll to 8,508 and the total number of cases to 279,114.

The governor said the state’s aggressive testing means it’s had “the lowest positivity rate among all of our neighboring states for the last few months.”

That accomplishment influences the state’s ability to “monitor and squash the spread of the virus in our communities together with targeted mitigations.”

As of Wednesday, the statewide seven-day positivity rate stood at 3.5%.

But Region One, which includes Rockford, Dixon, and Galena — has continued to climb toward the 8% threshold “at a concerning rate, now sitting at a seven-day average of 7.5%.”

State public health officials have reached out to their counterparts at the county level in that region to discuss preventative measures to avoid “additional mitigations in their communities,” Pritzker said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference on Wednesday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference on Wednesday.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“We’ve worked to protect Illinoisans from the worst effects of the financial downturn, and we’ve consistently encouraged the mitigation efforts that we know work,” Pritzker said, pointing to masks, social distancing and hand washing as the key to fending off the deadly virus. “It’s with those same tools that we’ll find our way out of this pandemic and through this difficult time.”

Last month, Pritzker declared a “red alert” for Will and Kankakee counties, banning indoor dining and bar service because of a rise on coronavirus testing positivity rates. He lifted those restrictions last week after the area’s numbers improved.

The state steps in, introducing “mitigation” efforts, after a region reports three consecutive days with an average testing positivity rate of 8% or higher. Experts use that number to gauge how rapidly the virus is spreading.

Currently, 1,563 Illinoisans were hospitalized with COVID-19, 351 of them in intensive care and 144 on ventilators.