Illinois reports biggest spike in COVID-19 deaths since May as added restrictions are set to take effect

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CHICAGO — Health officials reported 168 additional COVID-19 related deaths in Illinois Thursday, the biggest single-day increase since mid-May and the third largest rise since the start of the pandemic.

The latest update from the Illinois Department of Public health comes a day after the state passed 600,000 total COVID-19 cases and 11,000 deaths to date.

Illinois averaged 100 coronavirus-related deaths a day over the past week, data compiled by WGN-TV shows. The 168 deaths reported Thursday is the biggest increase since 191 deaths were reported on May 13, the highest single-day total of the pandemic.

Speaking Wednesday, Governor JB Pritzker said COVID-19 is now the third leading cause of death in Illinois behind heart disease and cancer. The elderly make up the majority of lives lost, with more than 70% over the age of 70. Roughly half of the state’s coronavirus-related deaths have been linked to long-term care facilities like nursing homes.

In addition to 168 coronavirus-related deaths, the IDPH reported 14,612 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases Thursday. After rising steadily since early October, the 7-day average of new cases of the disease has remained near 12,000 since November 13.

All of Illinois will move to stricter “Tier 3” COVID-19 restrictions starting Friday, including the closure of theaters, museums and casinos; capacity limits on stores; a ban on indoor service at bars and restaurants; a “pause” of indoor sports; and limits on household gatherings to members of the household only.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommended Americans not travel during the Thanksgiving holiday next week to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 as cases of the virus spike around the country.

According to the IDPH, 12% of tests performed from November 12-18 confirmed new cases of COVID-19, a slight increase in the positivity rate reported the previous day. Testing in the state also neared record levels Thursday, as the IDPH said 113,447 tests were reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the state’s 7-day average to more than 101,000.

WATCH ABOVE: Governor JB Pritzker and health officials give a daily COVID-19 update Thursday

Health officials said a rise in testing ahead of the holiday may suggest people are planning on getting tested before visiting with family over the holidays, but their guidance is still to stay home on Thanksgiving.

“While I do want to encourage people to get tested, just remember a negative test does not get you a free pass to celebrate Thanksgiving in person,” IDP Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Thursday. “The safest way to celebrate with your loved ones and your elderly relatives is to do it virtually.”

Most regions in Illinois have seen a flattening in the percent of all COVID-19 tests which come back positive, known as the test positivity rate, over the past few days. This trend continued Thursday, as testing has expanded statewide in response to the recent surge in cases.

“In the most recent two or three days, we’ve seen a hint of leveling in new cases and positivity rates in most of our regions,” Pritzker said Thursday. “It’s too early at this point to determine if this stabilizing of the average is a meaningful trend or an anomaly.”

State health officials continue to report results from rapid saliva antigen tests as “probable” cases of COVID-19, following CDC guidelines, while those tests made up about 10% of the total reported Thursday.

Joining Pritzker during his press conference Thursday, Dr. Kamaljit Singh of NorthShore University HealthSystem said hospitals are “at a breaking point.”

“We have been doing this for nine months and it does wear on us because it’s emotionally taxing, it’s physically taxing, it’s mentally taxing because it’s unrelenting and in many instances there’s very little we can do other than let the disease take its course,” Singh said.

Hospitalizations statewide continue to rise, with 6,037 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday night, according to the IDPH, including 1,192 in intensive care and 587 on ventilators.

Hospital capacity in most regions remains within state guidelines, although intensive care and hospital bed availability in the south suburban region including Will and Kankakee counties remains beneath its threshold of a 3-day average of 20%. There were 24 of 162 intensive care beds available in the region as of Wednesday night.

Health officials estimate 97% of all confirmed cases of COVID-19 have recovered to date.

As of Thursday, the IDPH reports there have been 11,178 coronavirus-related deaths in the state to date, while Illinois has seen the second most COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. over the past seven days, according to the CDC. The state ranks 7th in the nation when population is taken into account, behind other Midwest states including Wisconsin and Iowa.

There is a slight discrepancy in Thursday’s reported number of deaths when compared to the 11,014 reported yesterday, however 164 reported deaths would also be the biggest rise seen in the state in six months.

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