2,862 new COVID-19 cases worry officials as they share holiday gathering guidelines
New cases of COVID-19 totaled 2,862 Wednesday and 49 new deaths were reported -- the highest since June -- as state officials warned of increasing infections and issued guidelines for Thanksgiving and other upcoming holidays.
"Unfortunately, all 11 (public health) regions have seen an increase in positivity compared to where we were at last week's update (Oct. 7)," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at a briefing in Chicago.
"Statewide, our test positivity rate has grown by more than one full percentage point in the last week alone," he said. The seven-day average on Wednesday is 4.6%.
The seven-day average number of new cases stands at 2,852, a 39% increase from 2,052 from Oct. 1 to 7.
The number of patients in Illinois hospitals with COVID-19 was 1,974 as of Tuesday night, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported, also the highest since June 12 when hospitalizations hit 2,117. In most regions, that metric is creeping up, Pritzker said.
"To date, Illinois has had relative success keeping the virus at bay, and we're still doing better than many of our neighbors, but we can't let up -- and these numbers are indicating a concerning direction," he said.
Public health experts advised Illinoisans to take precautions this fall and rethink traditions such as Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, Diwali, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas and New Year's.
Pritzker said the coming weeks are a "flurry of some of the biggest family gatherings in a multitude of cultures," and he quoted CDC Director Robert Redfield's warning that "small family gatherings are one of the most prevalent ways that the virus is being transmitted."
It's not an abstract issue, IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike said. "We have too many personal celebrations that have ended up in tragedy where people have gotten sick" because of not taking the virus seriously.
"I know of a party, there were 20 guests -- 10 people ended up positive, one person is already hospitalized now," Ezike said. "There's been funerals that ended up in additional funerals."
State recommendations for holidays include downsizing gatherings, requiring guests to wear masks when not eating or drinking, seating people at small tables, opening windows and socializing outside.
Travel brings increased risks, but if you're flying or driving, mask up and wash hands, officials said. Those on road trips should eliminate unnecessary stops en route.
"If you think it's OK to let your guard down because some people seem fine after they got COVID-19, I'll remind you that many young people in their 20s and 30s are experiencing long-haul symptoms of this virus: pulmonary issues, monthslong breathing and coughing issues, exhaustion," Pritzker said.
Cases statewide since the pandemic began stand at 327,605, with deaths reaching 9,074, the IDPH reported. The highest number of deaths before Wednesday was 64 on June 24.
"While deaths have increased over the last four weeks, which is not good at all, we have seen the number of deaths in nursing homes decrease," Ezike said. "The rest of the population continues to be at risk and we need to keep masking."
Ezike was asked if any updated guidelines for winter youth sports, such as basketball, are forthcoming. "We will have that information released very shortly," she said.
Illinois labs reported 52,669 tests in the last 24 hours.
Twenty counties in southern Illinois (Region 5) have an average test positivity rate of 7.7% and could face restrictions, such as no indoor dining at restaurants and bars, if that reaches 8%.
On Thursday, the IDPH will begin reporting results on its website for antigen tests, which use proteins to diagnose COVID-19, in addition to widely used molecular tests that scan genetic material. Until recently, results have reflected only molecular tests, but more rapid antigen tests are now being deployed from the federal government, Ezike said.
In addition, the IDPH website on Thursday will begin separating University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's saliva test results from the rest of east-central Illinois' Region 6 that includes Champaign County because the low number of positives on campus skews the area's health metrics.