CHICAGO (CBS) — Less than two hours after Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a 30-day voluntary stay-at-home advisory for Chicago starting next week, Gov. JB Pritzker said he might be forced to soon issue a new statewide mandatory stay-at-home order if the new wave of the pandemic continues to surge.
“We are left with not many tools left in our toolbox to fight this. The numbers don’t lie. If things don’t take a turn in the coming days, we will quickly reach the point when some form of a mandatory stay-at-home order is all that will be left,” Pritzker said at his daily COVID-19 briefing Thursday afternoon. “With every fiber of my being, I do not want us to get there, but right now that seems like where we are headed.”
The warning came as Illinois reported a new record daily case count, with 12,702 new coronavirus cases, the third day in a row the state has set a new all-time high.
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said the state also reached a new high for COVID hospitalizations, with 5,258 virus patients being treated in Illinois hospitals as of Wednesday night.
“That number is only going to increase based on the numbers of cases that we’ve identified for the last several weeks,” she said.
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Ezike and Pritzker said every metric used to track the progress of the pandemic has been going up significantly since the beginning of October.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, since Oct. 1, there has been a 459% increase in the average daily case count, a 250% increase in the average case positivity rate, a 217% increase in the average number of deaths per day, a 179% increase in COVID hospitalizations, a 161% increase in ventilator usage by coronavirus patients, and a 135% increase in intensive care unit bed usage by COVID patients.
Pritzker said hospitalizations from the virus have increased in all 11 regions of Illinois, and every region now has a test positivity rate of at least 12.5%.
The governor’s warning of a possible new stay-at-home order came just one day after IDPH urged everyone in Illinois to stay at home as much as possible over the next three weeks, leaving only for essential activities, such as work that can’t be performed at home, COVID-19 testing, buying groceries, visiting the pharmacy, or seeing a doctor.
Ezike warned that Illinois could see positivity rates climb as high as 50% if people don’t do something now to help bring the virus under better control.
“We ask that people stay at home as much as possible. Go out only when necessary, and don’t take the whole family and friends. Minimize the number of people that are out,” she said. “Of course, if you have to go to work, if you can’t work from home, just do what is mandatory, what must be done.”
Ezike said people also should avoid public gatherings and non-essential travel for the foreseeable future.
“With the rising prevalence of this virus, attending even the smallest gathering that mixes households, or traveling to surrounding areas, that increases the risk of further spread of this virus,” she said.
The governor said if the metrics don’t improve soon, he might have to issue a mandatory stay-at-home order in less than the three weeks the state is currently recommending people stay home as much as possible.
“This is definitely something we’re monitoring day-by-day,” Pritzker said. “It is absolutely possible, and certainly likely if the numbers keep going the wrong direction, that we may have to take more stringent action.”
Pritzker also lambasted local and county election officials who have been refusing to enforce the regional COVID-19 restrictions the state has ordered across Illinois, including a ban on indoor dining and bar service in every region of the state.
Pritzker noted that earlier this week, Sangamon County and the capitol city of Springfield announced they would reverse course and begin enforcing regional mitigations effective Friday, more than two weeks after Region 3 in west-central Illinois reached the threshold for the added restrictions.
The governor said, two weeks ago, Region 3’s seven-day test positivity rate was at 8.8%, but now stands at 16.4%, while the number of people hospitalized for the virus in Region 3 has more than doubled in that time.
“I commend the leaders in Sangamon County and Springfield for taking this step in the right direction, because simply put, there’s just no time left to waste,” he said.
However, Pritzker said too many other local and county officials across the state are still disregarding the state’s regional mitigation orders.
“What will it take to make this real for you? Do we have to reach a positivity rate of 50% like we’re seeing in Iowa today?” he said. “Are you waiting for healthcare workers to get sick to a point where you don’t have enough staff in the local hospital to cover the next shift? What if the hospitals become so overrun that your sick and your dying have nowhere left to turn? Because I promise you, while you fail to take responsibility in your city and your county, that day is coming closer, and it will be on you.”
Meantime, the governor urged people to keep Thanksgiving gatherings small this year, saying that virtual gatherings are the safest option given the state of the pandemic.
“At the end of the day, traditions are so important to all of us, but this year we need to celebrate a little bit differently,” he said.
Ezike last month recommended anyone hosting a holiday gathering consider limiting the number of guests, and have as many outside activities as the weather permits. While indoors, she said you should increase air flow by opening windows as much as possible, and encourage guests to wear masks when not eating and drinking.
Ezike also has suggested planning seating arrangements so people in the same household are seated together, and if possible, at a distance from other households, perhaps by spreading out tables in different rooms. She also recommended avoiding buffet-style or potluck settings, and consider having just one person serve all the food, so multiple people are not handling serving utensils. If you do opt for buffet or potluck, make sure everyone washes their hands before handling any utensils.
Pritzker said the state will be using a small portion of its federal coronavirus relief funds to launch a new public awareness campaign urging people to safely celebrate the upcoming holidays.
“This new campaign, Healthy Holidays To You, highlights what doctors and scientists consider methods to reduce your risk of spreading or contracting the virus: keeping gatherings small and virtual, maintaining six feet of distance from others, and wearing a mask, whether you’re indoors or out,” Pritzker said.
The governor said, if you do host or attend a Thanksgiving gathering, you should self-isolate as much as possible for 14 days beforehand to limit your risk of spreading or catching the virus.
“If you do choose to have a small in-person Thanksgiving, the safest way to do it is to have every single person in attendance more or less quarantined, or come close to it for the two weeks prior. So that would start today,” Pritzker said.