by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) — While Illinois has seen an additional 1,344 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 66 more deaths in the past day, Gov. JB Pritzker said there is an encouraging sign that “our rate of rise is looking less and less exponential.”

“That indicates to us that we are in fact bending the curve. There is even some evidence that we may be moving toward a flatter curve, but we need to keep watching the data on a daily basis. Keep in mind our case numbers and the death toll are still growing, and thus our fight must continue,” Pritzker said at his daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, Illinois now has 16,422 total cases of COVID-19 in 18 counties, including 528 deaths. A total of 80,857 people in the state have been tested for the novel coronavirus.

“This pandemic is certainly testing the public health system. The IDPH laboratories are working around the clock, now 7 days a week, multiple shifts, testing specimens for COVID-19, and communicable disease experts are issuing guidance on an extensive range of issues and tracking cases,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “Our preparedness staff are monitoring and working to increase supplies, check on the capacity of the hospitals, and doing that all across the state.”

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Thursday marked one full calendar month since Pritzker issued a formal disaster proclamation for the coronavirus outbreak in Illinois. Since then, he has used his emergency powers to order bars and restaurants to close to dine-in customers, to limit large gatherings of people, to move all Illinois schools to remote learning, and to mandate people stay at home except for essential trips such as for food, medical supplies, or doctor’s visits.

“We are all making sacrifices, and I ask you to stay the course. We are headed in the right direction, because of all the tremendous efforts by all of you. All of these actions are making a difference, and we must continue to work together,” Ezike said.

With the rate of new cases appearing to be slower, and some COVID-19 forecast models predicting Illinois cases peaking this weekend, Pritzker said he’s worried some people might “throw caution to the wind” and start ignoring the state’s stay at home order, “thinking they’re not in danger.”

“If we are improving, and it’s still up in the air, but if we are improving here in the state, it is because people are staying at home,” he said. “If you don’t stay home, if you go out, you have some propensity to infect other people, and we need you to stay at home. We need this curve to bend, and then we can begin to talk about how we can begin to open things up a little bit more.”

The governor said, despite the encouraging recent trends with COVID-19 cases, it’s unlikely he’ll lift the stay at home order before April 30, when it currently is scheduled to expire. He also said, even when the state does reach a point when the stay at home order can be lifted, that won’t mean all of the COVID-19 restrictions will go away immediately.

“Just because we’re bending the curve doesn’t mean we’re bending down yet, and so people need to understand that it is unlikely that we will be able to lift this stay at home before April 30th. And, indeed, as we approach April 30th, we will be thinking about what are the restrictions or rules that we need to set going forward after April 30th,” he said.