CHICAGO — Illinois health officials reported a record single-day increase in new COVID-19 cases for the second time in less than a week Thursday, as communities across the state face additional restrictions due to rising infection rates.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 6,363 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Thursday, surpassing the previous record of 6,161 set on Saturday and passing 5,000 for just the third time since the start of the pandemic.
Speaking Thursday, Governor JB Pritzker said the state has “a real problem on our hands.”
“The growth rates that we’re seeing in positivity rates, hospitalizations and deaths are telling us that we are again experiencing a meaningful and sustained increase in transmission of this virus,” Pritzker said.
Data compiled by WGN-TV shows the state’s 7-day average of new cases is now just over 5,000, up from around 2,000 at the start of the month. The state’s 7-day case positivity rate, which represents the number of new individual cases compared to the total number of tests, continued a rise which began at the start of the month as well to reach 6.9% as of Thursday.
After remaining relatively stable since early July, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 also continued a rise which began in mid-October. Health officials reported 3,030 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday night, including 643 in intensive care and 269 on ventilators.
Officials also reported 56 additional coronavirus-related deaths in Illinois, bringing the total death toll to 9,675 in the state. When measured over a 7-day average, the number deaths was relatively stable through the summer but is now around 40 after beginning to rise at the start of October.
Pritzker said deaths and hospitalizations are a “lagging indicator” of the spread of COVID-19.
“We can see in these numbers the consequences of rising case rates and hospitalizations and ICUs and ventilators across our state from weeks ago, and unfortunately I’m afraid we can expect worse to come,” Pritzker said.
Testing is also expanding across the state, but at a slower rate than new COVID-19 cases. With more than 83,056 new tests reported Thursday, the state’s 7-day testing average is now around 73,000, up from around 57,000 on October 1. Pritzker said Cook County alone now conducts more tests than 38 U.S. states.
Health officials also announced the West-Central Region around Springfield will be the latest to see additional coronavirus mitigation measures under the Restore Illinois plan, after the 7-day COVID-19 test positivity rate passed state limits of more than three days above 8%.
Mitigation measures under “Tier 1” of the state’s plan, including a ban on indoor dining at bars and restaurants and limits on groups to 25 people, will take effect in the West-Central Region starting Sunday. Similar measures are already in place in communities across Illinois, and will be in Chicago starting Friday.
The restrictions are getting criticism from mayors worried about their impact on local businesses, including some who say they will not enforce it. According to the Illinois Restaurant Association, 5,000 restaurants have already gone out of business since the beginning of the pandemic.
IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said the measures being put in place in the West-Central region this week is the first time a central Illinois region has seen added mitigation measures.
“For those residents living in regions and communities where the virus didn’t seem to be ‘that bad,’ things are changing with positivity rates steadily increasing,” Ezike said. “The more people adhere to the measures, the quicker we can move out of mitigation.”
Pritzker said health officials are sticking to the mitigation measures they believe work after implementing them in other regions in the fall.
“I had hoped that maybe Illinois, doing as well as we had been doing, perhaps that we wouldn’t see a second wave or a new wave of coronavirus; boy was I wrong,” Pritzker said. “We’re taking it as it comes, we’re putting in mitigations that we’ve learned work, and we’ll continue to move in that direction.”
Only one region remains below the state’s “failsafe” level, although the North-Central region which includes Peoria is on the cusp after reporting a 7-day positivity rate of 7.9% Thursday. The East-Central region has been above the 8% limit for two days.
In order for mitigation measures to be lifted, a region would need to see its 7-day positivity rate drop to or 6.5% for three consecutive days. Stricter measures could be put in place if the rate is above 8% after 14 days, which has already occurred in northwest Illinois.
The IDPH said it will also begin regularly publishing its overall test positivity rate, which reflects the total percent of tests which come back positive as opposed to only new cases, as it “helps us understand how the virus is spreading in the population over time.” That rate from October 22-28 came in at 8.2%.
The U.S. economy grew at an unrivaled pace in the third quarter as the government poured out more than $3 trillion worth of pandemic relief which fueled consumer spending, but the deep scars from the COVID-19 recession could take a year or more to heal.
The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 751,000, the lowest since March, but it’s still historically high and indicates the viral pandemic is still forcing many employers to cut jobs.