Illinois sets single-day record with 50K coronavirus tests, as U of I gets approval for ‘game-changing’ test

Chicago News

CHICAGO  —  Health officials said more than 50,000 COVID-19 tests were performed in Illinois over the past 24 hours Wednesday, reporting the biggest single-day increase in testing as new cases hit the highest level since late May.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 50,299 COVID-19 tests were performed over the past day, while 2,295 new cases and 25 coronavirus-related deaths were confirmed as well.

This is the first time officials reported more than 50,000 tests were performed over a 24 hour period, as testing continues to expand across Illinois. The state came close on August 14 and July 31, when over 49,000 tests were reported.

The record comes as Governor JB Pritzker announced a “game-changing” development in testing in Illinois Wednesday, as a rapid saliva-based test developed at the University of Illinois received emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

“It’s one of the least expensive and potentially most effective now on the market,” Pritzker said. “This news puts the University of Illinois and the entire state of Illinois on the cutting edge of testing innovation as a national player.”

U of I developers said the test requires fewer raw materials than most, avoiding some of the supply bottlenecks that slow testing programs. Additionally, they said it only costs about $10 per test, and results are back in three to six hours.

University of Illinois researcher Dr. Martin Burke said they started a trial run of the test in July, and the results were promising: the COVID-19 positivity rate on campus dropped from 1.5 percent to 0.2 percent.

“So, the faster we find individuals who are positive and get them isolated, the better. And if we can do a fast test, and we can do it frequently. Finally, the numbers tip and suggests we can defeat this virus,” Burke said.

Pritzker and university officials said the saliva-based test will be administered regularly to U of I students and faculty, and holds potential for other high-risk communities including nursing homes and K-12 schools.

Governor Pritzker, health officials and officials from the University of Illinois give updates on COVID-19 in Illinois and a testing development at the university Wednesday

The 2,295 new COVID-19 cases reported Wednesday is the biggest single-day increase since 2,508 new cases were confirmed on May 24. A similar spike in cases occurred on a recent day when a near-record number of tests were also reported, as 2,264 cases were confirmed on August 14.

Pritzker and IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said there is a “troubling” increase in cases and positivity rates over recent days in Illinois.

“The country as a whole, for four weeks in a row the positivity rate has declined – for four weeks in a row for Illinois, the positivity rate has increased,” Ezike said.

Illinois’ positivity rate from August 12-18 rose slightly to 4.4 percent, and has been near 4 percent since the beginning of August. The 7-day testing average since the beginning of the month has risen from around 38,000 to around 42,000.

New state-imposed restrictions including limits on gathering sizes and bar and restaurant hours went into effect in the Metro East region outside St. Louis Tuesday after the positivity rate there exceeded the 8 percent limit set in the “Restore Illinois” plan.

The positivity rate in the Metro East region as of August 16 is 9.5 percent, and remains above the 8 percent limit.

While every other region remains within the state’s guidelines for both positivity rates and hospital admissions, Pritzker said there are “troubling” trends in most regions.

“Across the state, our 11 Restore Illinois regions are trending in different directions, the majority of which are the wrong direction,” Pritzker said.

In particular, Pritzker said they are seeing “troubling” trends in Region 7, which includes Kankakee and Will counties, and Region 5 in the southern tip of the state.

Hospital resources and coronavirus-related hospitalizations remain within state guidelines as well, with 1,519 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 state wide, including 334 in intensive care and 144 on ventilators.

While Illinois continues to report better COVID-19 statistics than many states, Ezike said the state appears to be “trending in the wrong direction.”

“I’m concerned that we have grown numb to these numbers and we need to remember that these are not just numbers – these are people,” Ezike said. “This virus didn’t change – its tactics are the same and its practices are the same, but we can’t change ours.”

Indiana health officials reported 506 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 14 coronavirus-related deaths Wednesday, while the 7-day positivity rate remains relatively stable at 7.7 percent as of August 12.

University of Notre Dame officials canceled in-person classes for two weeks Tuesday, citing an increase in the positivity rate among students on campus. Notre Dame Rev. John Jenkins said most of the cases were found among students who lived off-campus, and attended gatherings with no masks or social distancing.

In Chicago, health officials temporarily shut down five restaurants over the weekend for breaking its rules for Phase 4 of reopening. One owner said they only skirted the rules because they are growing desperate as restrictions limit capacity in restaurants across the city.

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