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CHICAGO — Governor JB Pritzker warned the COVID-19 test positivity rate in the region including Rockford and several northwest Illinois counties is nearing the state’s 8 percent limit as the virus’ death toll in the state passed 8,500 Wednesday.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the rolling 7-day COVID-19 positivity rate in the North Region of the “Restore Illinois” plan came in at 7.5 percent as of September 20 after rising over 14 of the past 30 days.

If the rate surpasses 8 percent for three consecutive days, additional mitigation measures will be put in place across the region which includes Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside and Winnebago counties.

During a press conference Wednesday, Pritzker said state health officials are working with local health departments to bring COVID-19 case numbers down, while appealing to residents to follow social distancing and hygiene guidelines.

“Please wear your masks, encourage others to wear masks, watch your distance, wear your masks and get your flu shots now,” Pritzker said.

Additional restrictions remain in place in the Metro East region outside St. Louis, but Pritzker said they may be lifted as the rate there continues to decline below the 8 percent limit, coming in at 7.3 percent as of Sunday. Added restrictions in the South Suburban region have also been lifted.

The IDPH reports 1,848 new cases of COVID-19 and 22 additional coronavirus-related deaths have been confirmed over the past 24 hours, bringing the statewide death toll to 8,508 Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the U.S. passed the grim milestone of 200,000 COVID-19 related deaths to date. Illinois’ 7-day average is about 20 reported coronavirus-related deaths per day, data compiled by WGN shows.

Illinois’ statewide positivity rate from September 16-22 remains steady at 3.5 percent, while the state is averaging about 52,000 COVID-19 tests per day. Health officials estimate 96 percent of confirmed cases have recovered to date.

Pritzker again touted testing in Illinois as the best in the region and among the best in the country on Wednesday.

“At this point we are by far the best testing state in the Midwest, and the best testing state between the two coasts,” Pritzker said. “Those accomplishments attribute mightily to our ability to monitor and squash the virus in our communities.”

Hospital resources and coronavirus hospitalizations remain within state guidelines, with 1,563 patients hospitalized with COVID19 as of Tuesday, including 351 in intensive care and 144 on ventilators.

Johnson & Johnson is beginning a huge final study to try to prove if a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine can protect against the virus Wednesday, conducting one of the world’s largest studies so far with 60,000 volunteers across the globe.