Pritzker: Added restrictions to remain in place as experts warn of COVID-19 surge due to Thanksgiving travel

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CHICAGO — Governor JB Pritzker said stricter “Tier 3” coronavirus mitigation measures will remain in place across Illinois until mid-December at least, as health officials warn of a potential surge in COVID-19 cases caused by travel over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Illinois has seen a trend of declining COVID-19 test positivity rates and hospitalizations in recent days. If this trend continued, Chicago and some other regions appeared to be days away from qualifying for stricter “Tier 3” mitigation measures to be rolled back.

But as health experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci say a “surge upon a surge” of the coronavirus is likely in the coming weeks due to Thanksgiving travel, Pritzker said the restrictions will remain in place even if a region qualifies for them to be lifted.

“We are still very much in a precarious place and we have got to take the time to evaluate any Thanksgiving effect before we make any premature adjustments,” Pritzker said.

Despite calls from the CDC and local officials for Americans to avoid travel this Thanksgiving, the TSA reports more than three million people were processed through the nation’s airports over the holiday weekend.

Pritzker said he consulted with Fauci, the Illinois Department of Public Health, as well as Dr. Rob Murphy at Northwestern Medicine and Dr. Emily Landon at U of C Medicine in making the decision.

It could be days before health officials get a sense of the fallout from holiday gatherings. To help, IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike recommends that people who visited someone’s home last week get tested for COVID-19 later this week.

“It is recommend to wait about six or seven days after exposure to be tested but if you do have symptom please get tested right away,” Ezike said.

WATCH ABOVE: Governor JB Pritzker and health officials give a daily update on COVID-19 in Illinois Monday

Statewide, the IDPH reported 6,190 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, as well as 85 additional coronavirus-related deaths Monday.

The percent of tests which confirmed a new case of COVID-19 from November 23-29 rose slightly to 10.2%. Officials also said 66,980 new tests were reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the state’s 7-day testing average down to around 86,000, below a peak of more than 100,000 seen days prior.

Hospitalizations also began declining about a week ago, although the total number of patients remained relatively flat with 5,849 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Sunday night, including 1,217 in intensive care and 715 on ventilators.

Pritzker noted Monday that the overall number of hospitalizations remains above the peak seen in the spring, with some regions near or below the state’s warning level of 20% availability of intensive care beds.

“The dip in Illinois’ cases in recent days comes as we are seeing near record-high numbers of hospitalizations, meaning our ability to handle any new surge in Covid patients is still limited,” Pritzker said. “If we’re not especially careful right now, the surge will overwhelm our state’s healthcare system.”

According to data released by the IDPH Monday, Chicago was among the first regions to report a 7-day COVID-19 positivity rate below the 12% level needed to eventually move to the less-restrictive “Tier 2,” reporting a rate of 11.7% as of November 27.

The city’s 7-day test positivity rates have been declining since reaching a peak of 15.6% on November 13. When measured over the same 7-day period, testing in the city has risen by about 11% since then, but is outpaced by a 25% drop in the positivity rate.

However, Pritzker said Monday the Tier 3 mitigation measures will remain in place statewide as health officials watch for the predicted spike in COVID-19 cases. He said regions could potentially move to “Tier 2” in time for the December holidays, but didn’t give a firm timeline for them to be rolled back.

Most regions of the state established in the Restore Illinois plan have seen their COVID-19 test positivity rates decline or remain flat in recent days.

The South Suburban Region including Will and Kankakee counties is one exception, with a 7-day positivity rate that rose slightly to 17.4% as of November 27, the highest in the state.

While the 7-day average of hospitalizations in Southern Illinois has been trending down as well, the region reported 14 available intensive care beds out of a total of 88 as of Sunday night.

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