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

CHICAGO (CBS) — Despite a dip in new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, Illinois passed two grim milestones in the pandemic, with more than 600,000 total cases and 11,000 total deaths so far.

With Illinois in the midst of a second wave of the virus, Gov. JB Pritzker said coronavirus is currently the third-leading cause of death in the state, behind heart disease and cancer. In parts of April and May, during the first wave of the pandemic, COVID-19 was for a time the leading cause of death in Illinois.

“Unfortunately the virus is back with a vengeance,” Pritzker said at his daily coronavirus briefing.

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Wednesday reported 8,922 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, the first time in 12 days the state has reported fewer than 10,000 new cases.

The statewide seven-day average case positivity rate in Illinois now stands at 11.9%, the third day in a row that metric has dropped. However, it’s still more than triple the rate at the start of October, when the case positivity rate was 3.5%.

While the governor said there was “a glimmer of optimism” that the state’s positivity rate has been trending down the past few days, and new daily cases are the lowest they’ve been in nearly two weeks, he said it’s too early to tell if Illinois is starting to bend the curve on the second wave of the pandemic.

Pritzker said that’s why state officials try to look at week-to-week trends, rather than day-to-day trends.

“I don’t want to draw any conclusion until we see more days,” Pritzker said.

Even with Wednesday’s dip in new cases, the state is now averaging 11,846 new cases per day over the past week. Cases have surged since early October, when Illinois averaged 2,052 new cases per day during the first seven days of the month.

The state also reported 140 additional deaths on Wednesday, which was only the third time since late May that Illinois has reported more than 100 deaths in one day, though all three of those days came in the past eight days.

Pritzker said the new wave of the pandemic has led to a significant increase in COVID-19 deaths. Illinois is currently averaging 84 coronavirus deaths per day over the past week, compared to an average of 14 deaths per day in August.

Since the start of the pandemic, Illinois has reported a total of 606,771 coronavirus cases, including 11,014 deaths.

As of Tuesday night, 5,953 coronavirus patients were being treated in Illinois hospitals, a new record. The state’s hospitalization numbers have risen every day for more than three weeks, and have been above 5,000 for eight days in a row, after never reaching that level during the first wave of the pandemic.

Illinois is averaging 5,561 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.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said COVID patients are now taking up approximately 25% of the state’s hospital beds.

Meantime, Pritzker and Ezike doubled down on new statewide restrictions that will go into place in Illinois on Friday, including lower capacity limits for most retailers, and a requirement to close casinos, theaters, and museums.

The governor said multiple models project without additional mitigations, daily COVID deaths during this new wave of the pandemic will at least match the previous spring wave, and could even reach levels four to five times higher than the first surge.

Pritzker said those models estimate between 17,000 and 45,000 additional deaths between now and March 1, 2021, without additional restrictions.

The governor said, despite rising COVID-19 cases across the nation, too many people still don’t appreciate the threat the virus presents.

“Whether because of conspiracy theories, right-wing political ideology, or naivete, too many people still seem to think that COVID-19 is a hoax, or that a disease that is killing 1,500 Americans per day … and rising isn’t worth any effort to stop,” Pritzker said.

The governor even pined for the earlier days of the pandemic,  when people applauded healthcare workers as they went to work or saw them at the store, and lauded them with gifts of food. Pritzker said those days appear to be gone.

“Now healthcare workers are experiencing verbal assaults by people who come to the hospital suffering from COVID-19. Since last spring, the divisive and misleading rhetoric of the outgoing president of the United State seems to have implanted a false narrative in the minds of a loud minority of Illinoisans,” he said.

Pritzker said he’s heard from doctors and nurses who say patients coming into the emergency room with severe symptoms of the virus have screamed at them about COVID-19 being a hoax, or a hospital profiting scheme.

“It’s beyond tragic for all involved, and the accusations and strange notions are just not true. All of their false narrative has been proven untrue,” he said.

As she has several times during the pandemic, Ezike dismissed any notion that COVID-19 is no more dangerous than the flu, pointing out the flu causes an estimated 12,000 to 61,000 deaths a year in U.S., while coronavirus is already responsible for more than 246,000 deaths in less than a year.

“We have to call out the untruths. We have to speak truth. COVID-19 is very real, and it has been very deadly for so many,” she said. “Even if you can’t see how real this virus truly is, can we at least agree to be respectful of others and wear masks and keep our distance? Everyone’s actions affect others.”

Ezike and Pritzker again pleaded with Illinois residents to cancel traditional Thanksgiving plans, and spend the holiday only with members of their own household.

“If you really want to give thanks this Thanksgiving, give the gift of life and not put someone’s life in danger,” Ezike said.

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