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Seeing red: With high COVID-19 infection rate across Illinois, Pritzker warns, ‘We’re going to be dealing with this for some time’

Gov. J.B. Pritzker didn’t provide a date for when students, teachers and staff would be able to forgo face coverings. “We have to prepare ourselves for the, hopefully, ramping down of COVID over a number of months and maybe over the next year, but we have to follow the science and we’ll be requiring people to wear masks in schools to keep our kids safe until we no longer need to.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a daily COVID-19 briefing at the James R. Thompson Center in November.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a daily COVID-19 briefing at the James R. Thompson Center in November.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

The coronavirus is spreading at a high rate of infection across nearly all of Illinois, painting the public health version of the state map an ominous sea of red.

All but four of the state’s 102 counties fall into the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s color-coded red “high transmission” category. And three of the four — Whiteside and Lee in western Illinois and nearby Putnam — are only one category below that, the “substantial transmission” category.

High transmission is defined as more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days or a test positivity rate exceeding 10% over that period.

Only Stark County in central Illinois is at the “moderate transmission” level.

At an unrelated news conference Monday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned “we are going to be in this a little while longer.”

“I’m talking about COVID-19 and the challenge that it brings to all of us,” Pritzker said. “We’re going to be dealing with this for some time, it’s clear because there are many people who aren’t yet vaccinated — and we want them to go get vaccinated as soon as possible — but the variants are also alive, well and moving across the world.”

Coronavirus transmission rates in Illinois counties as of Sunday.
Coronavirus transmission rates in Illinois counties as of Sunday.
Illinois Department of Public Health

Those remarks were in response to a question about how long Pritzker’s mask requirement for schools would remain in place. The governor announced that mandate earlier this month.

Pritzker didn’t provide an end date or timeline for when students, teachers and staff would be able to forgo the face coverings, saying “this virus tends to have cycles to it and variants” and the face coverings are one way to keep people “safe and healthy in our schools.”

“It’s highly likely that a variant you see hitting some other country is going to come to the United States,” Pritzker said. “We have to prepare ourselves for the, hopefully, ramping down of COVID over a number of months and maybe over the next year, but we have to follow the science and we’ll be requiring people to wear masks in schools to keep our kids safe until we no longer need to.”

The United States COVID-19 transmission map as of Sunday.
The United States COVID-19 transmission map as of Sunday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The governor’s remarks and the newly updated state map come as the Illinois Department of Public Health reported an additional 2,463 cases of COVID-19 on Monday. That’s down a bit from the 2,631 on Sunday and the 4,032 on Saturday — the highest daily caseload since Jan. 29.

An additional four coronavirus deaths were reported on Monday, down from nine on Sunday and 17 on Saturday.

As of last week, new COVID-19 cases have multiplied by a factor of 10 since early July, with Delta causing upwards of 90% of the latest infections, officials have estimated.

On Friday, the state reported more than 21,000 cases over the past seven days, a 27% jump compared to the previous week and a 167% spike from late July.