PEORIA — Six of the state’s 11 coronavirus mitigation regions will be under escalated restrictions starting Wednesday as hospitalizations for COVID-19 show a quickening rate of increase.
“So no matter where in Illinois you call home, as you go about your daily lives, remember that this is not over,” Gov. JB Pritzker said at his daily COVID-19 briefing in Peoria. “There seems to be a COVID storm on the rise. And we have to get prepared.”
As of Sunday night, there were 2,638 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including 589 in intensive care unit beds and 238 on ventilators – all were once again highs not seen since early to mid-June.
A Capitol News Illinois analysis shows the weekly average hospital bed usage from Monday, Oct. 19 to Sunday, Oct. 25 increased by 495 to a total of 2,488, or roughly 25 percent, from the previous week. ICU bed usage increased by 118 to a total of 534 on average, an increase of 28 percent from the previous week. Average daily ventilator use increased by 51 from the week prior to 210, a jump of 32 percent.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we were concerned about overwhelming our hospitals and we must take action now to prevent that possibility,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a news release.
Pritzker’s office on Monday made the announcement that suburban Cook County’s Region 10 will enter Tier 1 of the state’s mitigation protocols after seeing an increase in positivity rate and hospital admissions for eight of the past 10 days. Region 4, which includes the Metro East area on the Missouri border near St. Louis, will see the mitigations after its positivity rate remained above 8 percent for three days.
Region 4 was previously under added mitigations from Aug. 18 to Oct. 9, while Region 10 is the first to trigger mitigations by a route other than three days above an 8 percent seven-day average positivity rate.
The state’s rolling seven-day average test positivity rate hit 6.3 percent Monday, the highest it’s been since June 2. That’s after IDPH reported an average of 4,984 confirmed cases among an average 70,959 test results reported each day from Saturday through Monday. That made for a three-day positivity rate of 7 percent, and the 6,161 cases announced for Saturday set the state’s one-day record.
Another 104 COVID-19-positive individuals died over the previous three days, bringing the death toll to 9,522 among 378,985 confirmed cases and more than 7.3 million tests conducted since the pandemic began. Ezike said if the current trends continue, Illinois is on a path to see 11,000 dead from the virus by the end of the year.
While there is a 97 percent recovery rate – meaning 97 percent of COVID-19-positivie individuals are alive 42 days after diagnosis, according to IDPH – Pritzker and Ezike said there are often lasting side effects for survivors.
“There are currently more than 2,500 Illinoisans in the hospital fighting this virus, and unfortunately because we now have so many new people getting infected, that number will likely rise over the coming weeks,” Pritzker said. “Many of those people will survive, but many will have lasting damage to their lungs and other internal organs.”
Ezike said all Illinoisans should take care to wash their hands, maintain social distance, wear face coverings and avoid large crowds, doing all of them together to further protect themselves.
“The goal should not be to be lax with getting infected because the chances of survival are good,” Ezike said. “But as we know, it’s not clear who will succumb to this virus or not. Yes, it’s true that our older members of society, and people with pre-existing conditions are among the higher risk, but we have heard countless stories of individuals, even teenagers, with no known medical conditions that have succumbed to this virus.”
Dr. Michael Cruz, chief operating officer of OSF HealthCare based in Peoria, agreed that OSF doctors had seen “otherwise healthy individuals who have succumbed to this virus.”
“This is the time when we have to double down,” he said. “We need everyone’s help to prevent further escalation of this pandemic in our area, and to help us reduce the impact on our health care resources, which are being used fully at this time.”
He said all Illinoisans should get their flu shot to help avoid strain on the system.
Asked about a potential need for field hospitals in the future, Pritzker said “we have the ability, by limiting capacity at certain locations like bars and restaurants, by everybody wearing a mask and so on, to avoid the need for field hospitals, but we’ve kept warm at least one facility.”
That’s in suburban Cook County, he said.
Ahead of the holiday season, Pritzker said people getting together with family and friends should wear masks and keep six feet of distance from each other, even when gathering in private.
While Pritzker has said he is not considering a statewide stay-at-home order, at the current rate of increase to COVID-19 positivity rates, all of the state’s 11 regions could soon be under escalated mitigations.
As of Friday, Oct. 23, the latest IDPH data available, Region 9 in north suburban Lake and McHenry counties had reached an 8.1 percent positivity rate, meaning two more days at the level would lead to added mitigations.
Region 3 in the Springfield area and several surrounding counties and Region 6 in east-central Illinois were at 7.8 percent, while Region 11, which includes only Chicago, had a positivity rate of 7.7 percent. Region 2, which includes Peoria and several surrounding counties, had the lowest positivity rate at 7.2 percent.
Mitigations in effect in Regions 1, 5, 7 and 8 and soon to be in effect in Regions 4 and 10 include the closure of bars and restaurants to indoor service, and Ezike noted last week that an outdoor structure used by bars or restaurants must be open on at least two sides, otherwise it will be considered an indoor structure. Outdoor service must close at 11 p.m.
Meetings, social events and gatherings both indoor and outdoor will be capped at the lesser of 25 guests or 25 percent of overall room capacity for those under Tier 1 of the mitigation plan, while casinos will close at 11 p.m. and be capped at 25 percent of capacity. Party buses will not be allowed to operate.
Last week, Ezike said casinos are allowed to open at 25 percent capacity because they are large, well ventilated spaces.
Pritzker once again reiterated that the state would enforce mitigations, potentially with revocation of gambling machine or liquor licenses after first issuing citations or dispersal orders.
“Where we know we’ve got scofflaws, where we know there are bars and restaurants or others who are putting the public in danger, we have asked our state police to go to those areas,” he said.
The mitigations do not apply to schools, which have separate guidance provided by the Illinois State Board of Education which remains in effect. Districts can choose locally whether students will participate in in-person learning.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.