CHICAGO — Governor JB Pritzker called a steady rise in new COVID-19 cases in Illinois “very concerning” Wednesday, as state health officials report the highest number of new infections in over a month.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 1,598 new cases of COVID-19 and 23 coronavirus-related deaths have been confirmed over the past day Wednesday, the most new cases since June 2 when 1,614 cases were reported.
“We’ve seen real progress over these last four-and-a-half months, but our numbers now appear to be gradually rising, and that’s very concerning,” Pritzker said.
The statewide coronavirus positivity rate from July 15-21 ticked up slightly for the third consecutive day to 3.2 percent. The rate has remained relatively stable even as testing efforts in the state continue to expand.
“The best doctors in our state, who are some of the best in the nation and the world, tell me that a gradually rising positivity rate is exactly when the exponential factors can take over,” Pritzker said.
The IDPH reports 165,301 COVID-19 cases and 7,347 coronavirus-related deaths have been confirmed in Illinois to date, and of confirmed cases 95 percent have recovered.
Pritzker called on residents to wear face masks and follow social distancing measures meant to keep the spread of the novel coronavirus in check, citing studies that say wearing a mask can reduce the risk of transmission by 80 percent.
The governor said “virus deniers” who refuse to wear a mask are putting their loved ones and others in danger.
“The enemy is not your mask… you’re endangering everyone around you so the enemy is you,” Pritzker said. “If you’re not wearing a mask, you’re doing it wrong. You have to wear a mask.”
Pritzker said while states like Florida and Texas are seeing a spike in cases, the coronavirus positivity rate in Illinois is about half those of neighboring states, and far below those that are seeing a surge in infections. Still, he said the virus could easily cross state lines.
“COVID-19 knows no boundaries, and the United States is one indivisible nation,” Pritzker said.
The governor said more than 1,600 contact tracers are currently working statewide, and starting Friday community-based organizations can apply for funding to do contact tracing in collaboration with local health departments
As the state tracks infections based on regions created in the “Restore Illinois” plan, Pritzker said the “Metro East” region in southwest Illinois outside St. Louis is “dangerously close” to having new mitigation efforts put in place. The region has seen an increase in test positivity rates for seven over the past 10 days, hitting the “warning” level outlined in the state’s updated “Restore Illinois” plan, with the rate at 6.9 percent as of July 19.
Pritzker said if the region sees a steady increase in hospitalizations or three days above a positivity rate of 8 percent, the state will put additional mitigation measures in place. This could include suspending indoor bar service or placing additional limits on gatherings and room capacities.
“It doesn’t take long at all to reverse all of our gains and for a trajectory of success to be turned on its head,” Pritzker said. “COVID-19 has not gone away and it remains a serious threat.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and health officials reimposed some coronavirus restrictions on Monday, including banning indoor seating for bars and reducing capacity for restaurants and gyms, citing an increase in COVID-19 cases, especially among young people.
According to the City, nearly 30 percent of new cases from June 15 to July 15 confirmed in the city came from people between 18 and 29 years old.
Chicago also added Kansas to its emergency travel order Tuesday. The order directs travelers entering or returning from 18 states that are seeing spikes in coronavirus cases to self-quarantine. Health officials said Wisconsin is also “very close” to being added to the list.
Pritzker also announced new measures to offer housing support to those struggling during the pandemic. A ban on evictions has been extended through August 22 in Illinois, and two funds will offer $150 million in relief each to cover housing expenses. Renters can apply for $5,000 in assistance starting August 10, and homeowners can apply for up to $15,000 starting August 28.
Additionally, the governor said Illinois is also working with federal authorities to investigate a major fraud scheme tied to unemployment benefits, in which someone files for unemployment benefits with another person’s personal information.
“An individual who has not filed an unemployment claim but received a debit card or an unemployment insurance letter … may be a target of this fraud,” Pritzker said.