CHICAGO — Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced changes in how health officials will monitor the spread of the novel coronavirus and potentially reinstate stricter stay-at-home measures Wednesday as some states see a spike in COVID-19 cases this summer.
The governor boasts that Illinois is doing better than neighboring states. But as the 7-day average is now once again above 1,000 cases, he is revising his response strategy and saying he will tighten restrictions on regions where cases surge.
According to the latest state figures, the average number of coronavirus cases measured over a 14-day period has been slowly rising since Illinois entered Phase 4 of reopening.
WATCH ABOVE: Governor JB Pritzker and IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike give an update on the spread of COVID-19 and the latest state measures in Illinois
“Opening up our economy does not have to come with a spike in cases. Other countries have done it successfully while reducing cases and infection rates. But that requires vigilance on the part of all of us,” Pritzker said.
The number of tests have been on the rise as well, and the statewide positivity rate measured from July 8-14 increased slightly to 3.1 percent. Pritzker said Illinois also has the lowest infection rate among all its neighboring states, and among the lowest in the country.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said some areas of the state are seeing a rise in cases this summer, in particular among young people. Officials are now closely monitoring youth sports, Pritzker said, noting an outbreak at Lake Zurich High School.
“This virus has not gone away, it’s still infecting people and it will likely continue doing that for months to come,” Pritzker said.
The IDPH reported Wednesday 1,187 new cases of COVID-19 and 8 coronavirus-related deaths were confirmed over the past day, bringing statewide totals to 156,693 cases and 7,226 deaths to date.
Pritzker said Illinois health officials will be increasing the number of regions that were originally established in the “Restore Illinois” plan to monitor the local spread of COVID-19 and potentially implement restrictions.
The plan originally divided the state into four regions, but moving forward there will be 11 different regions, based largely on shared hospital resources. The City of Chicago and Cook County will now be in their own regions, as will the collar counties.
The change comes after Pritzker’s plan came under criticism from Republicans and local leaders who objected to certain areas being grouped together, particularly in the northeast region, which included Chicago as well as Cook and the collar counties.
Insofar as what it would take for stricter measures to be implemented in one of these regions, Pritzker said it could occur if they see a rise in their positivity rate over seven days of a 10-day period, along with either an increase in hospital admissions or reduction in hospital surge capacities.
Additionally, if the positivity rate spikes over eight percent for three consecutive days, Pritzker said many stay-at-home measures could be reimposed as part of a “failsafe.”
“These mitigation options allow us to move decisively without acting more broadly than circumstances require,” Pritzker said.
As Illinoisians continue to adjust to the reality of life in a pandemic, the health and safety tips remain the same.
“We cannot control this situation without masking and distancing. We cannot,” Ezike said.
Both Ezike and Pritzker stressed coronavirus restrictions will remain in place for months to come.
“We cannot reach Phase 5 until we have a vaccine, a very effective treatment or the elimination of new cases over a sustained period of time,” Pritzker said.
Earlier Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned Chicago is “dangerously close” to taking a step backwards in reopening and reinstating stricter stay-at-home restrictions. Lightfoot said the number of coronavirus cases in the city are trending upwards, especially for young people.
Health officials in Cook County and Chicago also said Tuesday they’re seeing a surge in opioid addiction, overdose and even death during the coronavirus pandemic.
The first COVID-19 vaccine tested in the U.S. revved up people’s immune systems just the way scientists had hoped, researchers reported Tuesday. The shots are poised to begin key final testing, and the government hopes to have results around the end of the year.