CHICAGO (CBS) — Coronavirus cases continue to surge in Illinois, which saw a record number of new cases for the third time in eight days. The number of people hospitalized from COVID-19 also continues to grow.
Meantime, tougher virus restrictions begin in Region 5 in southern Illinois on Thursday, and Gov. JB Pritzker said even tougher mitigations will be imposed in Region 1 in northwestern Illinois, which has seen cases continue to climb even after more limits were put in place nearly three weeks ago.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 4,942 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, as well as 44 additional deaths. While the state reported 5,368 new cases of COVID-19 on Sept. 4, that total included cases from several previous days, after the state cleared a backlog of cases caused by a slowdown in the public reporting of results.
IDPH also reported record daily case counts twice last week, with 4,015 new cases on Oct. 15 and 4,554 new cases on Oct. 16.
Indiana also set yet another grim record on Thursday, reporting the highest number of daily COVID-19 cases ever with 2,880 new cases; and the highest number of deaths since April with 42 confirmed deaths, state health officials said.
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The new Illinois cases announced Thursday account for 6.1% of the 80,977 new tests reported by IDPH. The statewide seven-day average positivity rate remains at 5.7%, the highest it’s been since June 5, when the rate was 6%.
On Thursday, increased COVID mitigations began in Region 5 in southern Illinois (Alexander, Edwards, Franklin, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Marion, Massac, Perry, Pope, Pulaski, Saline, Union, Wabash, Wayne, White, and Williamson counties). The increased restrictions mean bars and restaurants must halt indoor service; reservations are required for each party at restaurants and bars; party buses must shut down; restaurants, bars, casinos, and other gaming facilities must close at 11 p.m.; and capacity limits for public gatherings are reduced to the lesser of 25 people or 25% of overall room capacity.
“These mitigations are not fun for anyone, but they’re meant to protect people, support our healthcare workers, and save lives. Just like stop lights and seat belts make our roads safer for everyone, or banning smoking from airplanes and restaurants, when science demonstrated the harms of second-hand smoke,” Pritzker said at his daily coronavirus briefing. “So many times throughout our lives, we are met with challenges, and from seat belts to signage we find ways to manage and to overcome them.”
The same extra mitigations will go into effect on Friday for Region 7 (Will and Kankakee counties) and Region 8 (DuPage and Kane counties).
Region 1 in northwest Illinois (Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside, and Winnebago counties) has been under increased mitigations since Oct 3.
The tougher restrictions from IDPH are triggered when a region’s average positivity rate surpasses 8% for three days in a row, and can be lifted if that positivity rate averages less than or equal to 6.5% for at least three days in a row. However, if a region’s positivity rate stays at or above 8% for 14 days or longer, the state could impose even more stringent COVID rules.
Pritzker said Region 1’s positivity rate has only continued to climb since the added mitigations went into effect earlier this month, rising to 11.9% as of Thursday. As a result, another round of tougher restrictions will begin Sunday, including a 10-person limit on indoor and outdoor social events and gatherings, such as weddings, funerals, and potlucks; as well as professional, religious, cultural, and social group gatherings.
The 10-person limits do not apply to in-person classes at schools, sports, or polling places.
Organized group recreational activities such as sports will be limited to the lesser of 25 people or 25% room capacity, with individual groups limited to no more than 10 people. These limits do not apply to gyms and fitness centers.
Bars and restaurants also must limit parties to no more than 6 people per table.
Pritzker said the mitigations being ordered by the state are “our best tools to find our way through to the other side” The governor said the restrictions aim to cut down on high-risk activities until positivity rates can be brought back down.
“We want to restore as much normalcy to people’s lives as possible, but that can only happen when we can slow down the community spread and keep it there,” he said.
Pritzker said if bars and restaurants ignore the extra restrictions, state officials are prepared to revoke their liquor and gaming licenses if needed.
The governor said he’s been reluctant to take such a drastic step in the past with businesses that have ignored COVID restrictions, because of the long-term implications of revoking a license.
“I want businesses to stay in businesses. I want them to survive,” he said.
However, Pritzker said the rise in cases right now is “very serious” and if the state needs to force bars and restaurants to close because they won’t obey the rules, they will do so.
“We’re working very hard, but we need everybody’s help in the public. We need the restaurant owners and bar owners to follow the mitigations, and to stop fighting and trying to find some flaw in the data, trying to find somebody who will say that a bar or restaurant is not a spreading location,” he said. “Bars and restaurants are seriously places where spreading takes place. They’re one of the top places that spreading takes place.”
The governor also warned that Region 4, the Metro East area, could soon see added mitigations for the second time, after spending more than a month with extra restrictions in September and early October. Those restrictions were lifted on Oct. 8, after Metro East’s positivity rate dropped to 5.8%.
“Here in Region 4 things have moved once again in a concerning direction,” Pritzker said.
The Metro East area’s positivity rate has ticked up from 5.8% to 7.8% in the past two weeks, according to the governor.
“In other words, Metro East, it’s time to step up and mask up. The work is not yet over. Nobody wants to go back to tightened and heightened mitigations,” he said.
IDPH has now reported a total of 360,159 coronavirus cases, including 9,387 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Illinois also has reported a total of more than 7 million tests.
As of Wednesday night, there were 2,463 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois, the most hospitalizations since June 8, when there were 2,600 virus patients being treated in Illinois hospitals.