Pritzker says positivity rates could be leveling, but mitigations still needed ahead of holidays
By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – The state reported its second-highest one-day COVID-19 count Thursday with 14,612, but it also reported its second-highest daily testing output with 113,447 results reported over the previous 24 hours.
The 168 COVID-19 related deaths reported Thursday made for the third-highest one-day total since the pandemic began. That brought the total death toll to 11,178 among 621,383 confirmed cases out of 9.4 million test results reported.
Dr. Kamaljit Singh, an infectious disease specialist at NorthShore Medical Group, called the COVID-19 pandemic a “21st century mass casualty event” and said the hospital system is “close to a breaking point.”
That came as hospitalizations for the virus surpassed 6,000 for the first time since the pandemic began with 6,037 COVID-19 patients in hospital beds at the end of Wednesday. That marks 25 straight days of increasing hospitalizations, while 29 percent of hospital beds remained open statewide.
Intensive care bed and ventilator usage for the virus each blew past second-wave highs as well, with 1,192 and 587 in use, respectively. Approximately 30 percent of ICU beds and 71 percent of ventilators remained unused at the end of Wednesday.
“I know at times that numbers can just fly over our heads, but to put it in simple terms, one in five hospitalized patients will die of COVID-19 infection,” Singh said. “It reminds me of growing up during the Vietnam War. I could never wrap my brain around the numbers of soldiers’ lives lost but the pictures were terribly compelling. Unfortunately, I can’t show you pictures of the suffering of our patients, but hopefully you can tell from the tone of my voice that this is a real human tragedy.”
He said the capacity restrictions and limits to indoor gatherings seen in the Tier 3 mitigations that will take effect Friday are needed to limit the virus’ spread.
“But we will also need to change our private behavior, because a lot of transmissions are occurring at birthday parties, weddings and family gatherings,” he said. “This is especially important as we approach Thanksgiving, and it’s critical that we make our bubble smaller, and only celebrate with our immediate household members.”
He said the goal is to bring the positivity rate down to the low single-digits as the nation awaits a safe and effective vaccine, as that is the only way to achieve any semblance of normalcy.
Singh joined Gov. JB Pritzker at his daily briefing Thursday in Chicago. The governor seconded his message.
“Outside of things you have to leave home for like school, work and groceries, we’re asking everyone to stay home as much as you can,” he said. “This is a temporary thing that we can do to reduce the spread of this virus in our communities. That will give our health care workers some relief and ensure that there will be hospital beds and doctors and nurses available for emergencies.”
The statewide seven-day average case positivity rate increased slightly from the day prior to 12 percent, remaining more than a point below its Nov. 13 high of 13.2 percent. The one-day positivity rate Thursday was 12.9 percent, which was the fifth highest single-day number of the second wave.
Eight of the state’s 11 COVID-19 mitigation regions saw the same or lower positivity rates from the day before as of Monday, as that data lags three days behind the current day.
“We continue to see concerning trends statewide in our hospitalization data, but 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. “It’s too early at this point to determine if this stabilizing of the average is a meaningful trend or an anomaly, but we’re glad to at least have a pause in our upward movement.”
He said it is still important to maintain social distance, wear face coverings, wash hands and avoid large gatherings. That’s also true for the Thanksgiving holiday, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said at the briefing.
“My fear is that the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths will spike even further in the weeks after Thanksgiving, because people spent that holiday together, mixing households,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to have to look back and say, ‘if only we didn’t have people over for Thanksgiving, such-and-such, so-and-so, might still be here for New Year’s.’”
Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Employment Security reported 46,800 first-time unemployment claims for the week ending Nov. 14. That’s a decrease of 20,358 from the week prior. Nationally, there were 742,000 first-time claims for the week, an increase of 31,000 from the previous week.
IDES reported the state’s unemployment rate fell 3.6 percentage points to 6.8 percent for the month of October, prior to increased mitigations taking effect. The September unemployment rate was revised upward from the preliminary report, from 10.2 percent to 10.4 percent, according to IDES’ release of data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The state’s unemployment rate was 0.1 percentage point lower than the national unemployment rate of 6.9 percent for October. The national rate decreased 1 percentage point from the previous month.
Pritzker said Thursday that although state workers prepare to work from home amid Tier 3 mitigations, it shouldn’t affect staff at IDES, who “continue to whittle down any backlog” in unemployment claims.
“We’re trying to have similar rules for state government as we have for offices, for example, in our mitigation plans,” he said. “There obviously are certain circumstances where you can’t ask people to do that because we have a duty to serve people in our state. So, we don’t expect that there will be any ramping down of people who are serving those who are seeking unemployment benefits.”
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.