CHICAGO (CBS) — With new statewide COVID-19 restrictions beginning tomorrow, Gov. JB Pritzker is again urging people to stay at home as much as possible, except for essential activities like shopping for groceries, going to work or school, or visiting the doctor.
“This is a temporary thing that we can do to reduce the spread of this virus in our communities,” he said.
The governor’s latest plea for people to stay at home amid a resurgence of the pandemic comes as the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 14,612 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, as well as 168 additional deaths. It was the 13th time in the past two weeks Illinois has reported more than 10,000 new virus cases, and the most deaths reported in a single day since mid-May, and the third most deaths reported in a single day during the entire pandemic.
The statewide seven-day average case positivity rate in Illinois now stands at 12%, a slight increase from Wednesday’s average of 11.9%, which had been the third day in a row that metric has dropped. The state’s average positivity rate is still more than triple the rate at the start of October, when the case positivity rate was 3.5%.
Illinois also reported a record number of COVID hospitalizations on Thursday, with 6,037 coronavirus patients being treated in Illinois hospitals as of Wednesday night. The state’s hospitalization numbers have risen every day for nearly four weeks, and have been above 5,000 for nine days in a row, after never reaching that level during the first wave of the pandemic.
Illinois is averaging 5,673 coronavirus hospitalizations per day over the last week, up from an average of about 1,500 per day at the start of October. During the first wave of the pandemic, the state peaked at an average of 4,822 hospitalizations per day in early May.
“This is a horrible situation,” Pritzker said. “We all have the ability to bring those hospitalization numbers down going forward to protect our hospital workers”
The governor said that’s why it’s important for people in Illinois to avoid going out except for essential activities, such as shopping for groceries, going to work or school if they can’t do so remotely, visiting the doctor or pharmacy, or getting a COVID test.
While Pritzker said there has been a “hint of leveling” in COVID metrics in recent days, with case positivity rates dropping three of the past four days, he said “it’s too early at this point to determine if this stabilizing of the average is a meaningful trend, or an anomaly, but we’re glad to at least have a pause in our upward movement.”
“These numbers are still extraordinarily high, and today’s new cases won’t show up in our hospitalization data – which are still trending poorly – for a number of days, maybe even a week or more,” he added.
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike also reminded people that testing negative for the virus doesn’t mean they can safely ignore public health guidance and attend large gatherings for Thanksgiving next week. She said, unless someone were to completely isolate themselves from others for 14 days after a negative test before attending a Thanksgiving gathering, they’d be at risk of catching the virus and spreading it to others.
“My fear is that the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths will spike even further in the weeks after Thanksgiving, because people spent that holiday together mixing households,” she said.
Starting Friday, the entire state will be under new Tier 3 resurgence mitigations. Retail businesses including big box stores like Target and Walmart, will be limited to 25% of normal capacity, while traditional grocery stores and pharmacies will stay at 50% capacity.
Salons, barber shops, and other personal care services where clients and employees can wear masks the entire time can stay open at no more than 25% capacity. Services such as facials and beard trims, where people must remove their masks, must be suspended.
Casinos, museums, and theaters would be required to close altogether. Video gambling machines statewide also would have to shut down.
Gyms would be allowed to remain open, but group classes would be prohibited, leaving them only with the option for scheduled individual workouts. Indoor recreational activities such as youth, club, and adult sports would have to pause. Outdoor group activities would be limited to 10 people or less, and everyone must wear face coverings at all times.
All workplaces that are able to do so should have their employees work remotely. Schools will be allowed to remain open under existing Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines. It would be up to each local school district to decide whether to allow in-person learning, or rely on remote learning or a hybrid model.
Pritzker said people also should not attend dinners, events, gatherings, or meetings with people beyond their own household.
Meantime, the governor announced the state is releasing $60 million in funding for community groups able to serve as a network of “pandemic health navigators” to help people infected with or exposed to COVID with services and resources such as meals, medicine, transportation, and mental health services.
Pritzker said those groups also will be able to assist people apply for public benefits applications, and will help combat COVID rumors and myths and promote public health guidelines.
“Nobody should have to go this alone. Through this partnership, these groups will receive direct funds from our regional coordinators for additional hiring, so we’ll be creating jobs while we’re addressing our public health challenges,” Pritzker said.
The funding will go to community groups across the state, except in Chicago and suburban Cook County, which already get direct federal funding for similar programs, Pritzker said.
Community groups interested in participating as “pandemic health navigators” can apply on the Illinois Department of Public Health website at dph.illinois.gov/healthnavigator.
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