Outbreak 'falling from our peak' as Pritzker touts per capita testing rate

  • As COVID-19 testing becomes more widespread and available, the state's positivity rate has begun to shrink.

      As COVID-19 testing becomes more widespread and available, the state's positivity rate has begun to shrink. Rick West | Staff Photographer, April 23, 2020

Updated 5/19/2020 6:33 PM

Illinois is now leading the nation's most populated states in per capita COVID-19 testing, Gov. J.B. Pritzker reported Tuesday during his daily briefing.

"Over the last several weeks, we've seen Illinois make significant, measurable progress growing our daily testing numbers," he said.


Almost 5% of the population has been tested.

The governor also suggested the state's outbreak might have peaked as hospitalizations, ICU beds devoted to coronavirus patients and ventilator use have all continued to decline over the course of several days.

"I am optimistic we are falling from our peak," Pritzker said. "But if you look at all the metrics, they're not all headed straight down."

State health officials announced Tuesday that another 146 residents have died from COVID-19 infections, while an additional 1,545 residents were diagnosed with the disease.

That brings the state's death toll to 4,379, with 98,030 residents now having tested positive for the disease since the outbreak began.

The new cases are among a batch of 18,443 test results and showed a 8.4% positivity rate for the day. The state's seven-day positivity rate rolling average is now 10%. A week ago, a week's worth of tests yielded an average positivity rate of 13.6%.

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Testing large numbers of people is seen as key to tamping down the outbreak by quickly identifying those infected, isolating them and tracing their contacts.

Besides Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike, Pritzker also invited two other infectious disease experts to the briefing Tuesday to discuss the importance of following state public health guidelines during the pandemic.

Dr. Emily Landon, head of the University of Chicago's infectious disease prevention and control program, said the strides the state has made to combat the spread of the virus is due to people following those guidelines.

"This is exactly the mark of success," Landon said. "But our transmission balance is tenuous and business as usual could set off another wave of infections that threaten our lives and our livelihoods."


She urged residents to be vigilant about social distancing and especially wearing masks in public places.

"Never leave the house without your face cover and always put it on when you go inside a building, or if you're near other people outside," she said. "Soon, it will be as natural as wearing pants, which most of us are pretty good about."

Dr. Richard Novak, head of the University of Illinois Health System's division of infectious diseases, said the sacrifices Illinois residents have made these past three months have resulted in hospitals not being overwhelmed by patients.

"By all measures it appears we're making slow but steady progress," he said. "We do these things because it protects those around us."

Novak noted vaccine trials are expected to start this summer and urged anyone to volunteer to participate in the trials as well.

In addition to the lower daily positivity rate, IDPH reported the fewest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations on Monday since the state began publishing those reports on April 12. There were 4,002 people hospitalized for the virus Monday. The number of virus-related intensive care patients also dipped below 1,000 for the first time in over a month.

"It is great news," Ezike said. "The measures have been working. The staying at home, the masks, the social distancing, all of those things are effective, that's why we've got numbers that are improving."

Pritzker also said he plans to be in Springfield Wednesday as the legislature returns for an abbreviated session.

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