CHICAGO (CBS) — Just as she did for Thanksgiving, the state’s top doctor is urging people in Illinois to celebrate the upcoming December holidays remotely, to hopefully avoid a new surge of COVID-19 cases.

“Of course, I have to say it, the safest way to enjoy the upcoming holidays would still be to be virtual,” Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Wednesday afternoon, during the governor’s daily coronavirus briefing.

READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Patchy Fog To Start, Sunny Throughout The Day

Ezike said, while you can safely celebrate the holidays with anyone who already lives in your household, you shouldn’t gather with anyone you don’t already spend time with on a daily basis. She said, instead, you should postpone any holiday celebration plans until after the pandemic is under much better control than it is now.

“I’ve heard people talk about how their family is not going to skip Auntie Grace’s mac and cheese, or someone’s famous pecan pie, but I would say you need to not skip it, but postpone it. I have missed some events, graduations, wedding anniversaries, and I’m fully planning to celebrate those, it just is still upcoming,” Ezike said.

Ezike’s plea came as the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 8,256 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases in Illinois on Wednesday, as well as 179 additional deaths. It’s the fifth highest daily death toll since the start of the pandemic.

While deaths from the virus are still trending upward, the state’s positivity rate has largely been trending downward over the past month. After the state’s seven-day average case positivity rate reached as high as 13.2% on Nov. 13, it is now down to 9.6%, the lowest it’s been since Nov. 6.

READ MORE: Man Shot And Killed In Dispute Outside West Chatham Home

However, hospitalizations from the virus have gone back up in recent days. As of Tuesday night, 5,284 COVID patients were being treated in Illinois hospitals, including 1,176 in the ICU and 647 on ventilators. Illinois is averaging 5,324 coronavirus hospitalizations per day over the last week, more than triple the 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.

Even if you’re planning to get tested for COVID-19 before hosting or attending in-person holiday gatherings, Ezike said unless you completely quarantine yourself for at least a week after the test, you’re still at risk of being infected and then spreading the virus to others.

For those people still planning to gather in-person for the holidays, Ezike urged them to move the gathering outdoors if possible, or at least increase ventilation indoors by opening doors and windows to let in fresh air and reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

“Again, I strongly encourage everyone to celebrate virtually. I don’t want the message to not be clear. I want you to call, or video chat, as many of you did at Thanksgiving,” she said. “There is still time to change your holiday plans. If you haven’t made them, I hope you will take this to heart. Please let’s give the gift of life. Let’s give the gift of health this holiday season. Again, we’ve come too far to give it up now.”

Ezike also urged people to share gifts by leaving them at someone’s door, or by identifying a worthy charity and using the money you would have spent on gifts to make an honorary donation.

MORE NEWS: City Was Warned About Thousands of Corroding Light Poles But Failed to Fix Many, CBS 2 Investigation Finds

Also From CBS Chicago:

CBS 2 Chicago Staff