by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producerBy CBS 2 Chicago Staff

CHICAGO (CBS) — With the Labor Day weekend approaching, Gov. JB Pritzker said he is worried that people in Illinois could unwittingly spread COVID-19 by letting their guard down at family picnics and barbecues, and not wearing masks or practicing proper social distancing.

“I am very concerned, as I was back in the 4th of July weekend, that people will be gathering as they often do; picnics, back yard barbecues, gatherings. And we know that much of the spread that’s occurring in much of Illinois is actually happening in these settings,” Pritzker said Wednesday afternoon. “They’re not public settings, they’re often private settings, and people often let down their guard, thinking ‘Well, I’m at home,’ or ‘I’m at somebody’s home that I know,’ but the reality is that you don’t know where everybody that’s there has been, and unless you maintain social distance and are mindful about wearing masks, the reality is that there can be and has been a significant amount of community spread as a result of those types of gatherings.”

Illinois Department of Public Health Assistant Director Dr. Amaal Tokars urged people celebrating the Labor Day weekend to keep any social gatherings small, and to wash their hands, wear masks, and stay at least six feet away from others as much as possible.

“Even our small intimate family gatherings must look different than they did before, but can be every bit as rewarding, as important, and as enjoyable,” she said. “So help us help one another, and let us make sure that when we are in social gatherings that are not too large – especially if they’re small gatherings indoors – that we’re also remembering to infuse these principles of hand washing, masking up, and social distancing.”

The governor noted that, over the past two weeks, nine of the state’s 11 regions have seen rising coronavirus cases. He also pointed out the Metro East region will now see tighter restrictions starting Wednesday, as its positivity rate has been above 8% for the past few weeks.

The specific new restrictions for the Metro East area taking effect Tuesday are as follows:

  • All bars must close at 11 p.m. and may not reopen until 6 a.m. the next day. The same goes for restaurants.
  • All bar patrons must be seated at tables outside, and no ordering, seating, or congregating at a bar will be allowed. Standing and congregating, whether indoors or outdoors, is also forbidden while waiting for a table at a bar or restaurant. Bar stools are to be removed.
  • Tables at restaurants and bars must be six feet apart.
  • Standing or dancing indoors is not allowed.
  • Multiple parties may not be seated at one restaurant table.
  • At events such as meetings, social events, weddings, funerals, and potlucks, the limit is to the lesser of 25 guests or 25 percent overall room capacity both indoors and outdoors.
  • Party buses may not operate.
  • Casinos and gaming halls must close at 11 p.m. and are limited to 25 percent capacity and the same rules as restaurants and bars.

Similar restrictions were put in place last week in Region 7 (Will and Kankakee counties). If metrics do not improve in those regions after 14 days, tighter mitigation efforts such as the closing of bars and restaurants altogether may happen.

“These are not decisions that I make lightly, nor would I impose these restrictions if there wasn’t evidence of increasing spread of the virus in these areas,” Pritzker said. “I want our businesses to be open, and I want our hospitality scene to thrive. I want to get people back to work, and finding new opportunities for themselves and their families, but the greatest hindrance to restoring our nation’s economic vitality is the virus. Until we get it under control – either by people following the doctor-recommended mitigations, or with an effective treatment or a vaccine – we are going to be fighting for our economic recovery with one hand tied behind our back. We must slow the rate of infection all across our state.”

Tokars announced Wednesday that 2,128 new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Illinois in the past 24 hours. The state also reported 27 additional deaths in the past day.

It’s the ninth time since early August that Illinois has reported more than 2,000 daily cases of the virus, after seeing no such days in all of June or July.

(Credit: CBS)

As of Wednesday, Illinois has reported a total of 238,643 coronavirus cases, including 8,091 deaths, since the start of the pandemic.

The latest cases came as IDPH reported 32,751 tests in the past day, for a one-day positive test rate of 6.5%. The seven-day statewide positive test rate for the past week stands at 4.5%, compared to 3.9% a month ago, and 2.5% in early July.

The state typically reports between 40,000 and 50,000 tests per day, but Tokars said there’s been a recent slowdown in data processing, which is affecting its public reporting of results.

“While all results have been reported out to those tested, we are experiencing a minor tech issue in the data processing system that we use to report out tests publicly, and that is why this number is somewhat lower than the 40- and 50-thousand tests we’ve been reporting previously. This is being worked on with urgency, and we expect that this will be addressed very soon,” she said.

As of Tuesday night, 1,596 virus patients were being treated in Illinois hospitals, including 347 in intensive care, and 142 on ventilators. The state’s coronavirus hospitalization figures have been relatively flat this summer, even as overall cases have steadily risen since late June.

So far, the vast majority of COVID-19 patients have recovered from the disease, with a 95% statewide recovery rate as of Wednesday. The state’s recovery rate calculates the number of people who have tested positive for the virus, and have survived at least 42 days after their test.