CHICAGO — With the number of COVID-19 patients in Illinois hospitals exceeding its peak from the spring and new coronavirus infections rising rapidly in every region of Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned the state appears headed for a second stay-at-home order.
“If things don’t take a turn in the coming days, we will quickly reach the point where some form of a mandatory stay-at-home order will be all that is left,” Pritzker said Thursday. “With every fiber of my being, I do not want us to get there, but right now that seems like where we are headed.”
The Illinois Department of Public Health issued an advisory Wednesday that everyone in Illinois should avoid all nonessential activities over the next three weeks, recommending residents remain at home “as much as possible” heading into the Thanksgiving holiday. On Thursday, the city of Chicago issued a similar advisory.
Public health officials hope the effort to reduce coronavirus transmission ahead of the holiday season will allow businesses and schools to remain open. Neither advisory was binding.
“If you do choose to have a small, in-person Thanksgiving, the safest way to do it is to have every single person in attendance quarantine, or come close to it, for the two weeks prior, so that would start today,” Pritzker said.
Indoor service is banned at bars and restaurants throughout Illinois, with all regions under at least Tier 1 mitigations to Phase 4 of the governor’s Restore Illinois reopening plan. Four of the state’s 11 COVID-19 resurgence mitigation regions are under a second tier of mitigations.
The third tier includes the suspension of all nonessential retailers, elective surgeries, organized recreational activities, and salon and personal care operations.
According to the “what could cause us to move back” portion of the plan, he IDPH will recommend a move to Phase 3 based on the following factors: “Sustained rise in positivity rate; Sustained increase in hospital admissions for COVID-19-like illness; Reduction in hospital capacity threatening surge capabilities; Significant outbreak in the region that threatens the health of the region.”
As of Thursday, new hospitalizations are increasing in every region of Illinois. Regional positivity rates range from a low of 12.5 percent in southern Illinois to 18.9 percent in northwestern Illinois, on the border with Wisconsin and Iowa, states where positivity rates now exceed 40 percent.
Pritzker had tough words for elected officials who have disregarded public health guidance and refused to enforce mandatory public health orders.
“Those who have stood up at press conferences to question the data and fuel conspiracy theories, those who have taken their absurd crusade to the courts and lost nearly every single time, those who have flat-out told the businesses in their communities to ignore what their local and state public health departments and experts — some of the best in the nation — are telling them,” he said. “What is it going to take to get you to be part of the solution?”
The governor said state officials have provided data from dozens of experts and studies from across the globe to show the danger of the virus’s uncontrolled spread. He said more people will die due to local leaders failing to enforce public health mandates.
“What will it take to make this real for you? Do we have to reach a positivity rate of 50 percent like we’re seeing in Iowa today?” Pritzker said. “Are you waiting for health care workers to get sick to the point where you don’t have enough staff to cover the next shift? What about if the hospitals become so overrun that your sick and your dying have nowhere left to turn? Because I promise you, while you fail to take responsibility in your city and your county, that day is coming closer, and it will be on you.”
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Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said new COVID-19 cases were increasing at an exponential rate, with the latest data suggesting record-high hospitalization numbers would continue to increase in the coming week.
“I cannot express strongly enough the seriousness and the urgency of the spread,” Ezike said.
Even the smallest gatherings among different households increase the risk of spread in the community, she said. And the increased spread in the community is having an impact on congregate living settings, contributing to deaths in state-run veterans homes and outbreaks in schools.
“It’s impossible to have a COVID-free veterans free home, a COVID-free school, in the midst of a COVID storm,” Ezike said. “That ‘s what we have in our community right now.”
In addition to the state’s COVID-19 holiday safety guidance, the governor also announced a new seasonal advertising campaign called “Healthy Holidays to You.”
With riffs on holiday songs such as “if you’re going to jingle, jingle 6 feet apart” and “Over the Wi-Fi and through the Zoom to Grandmother’s house we go,” the ads will be featured on billboards, on television, online and in print as part of the “All in Illinois” public awareness campaign.
“This is the moment to step up and get it right. Winter is coming,” Pritzker said. “We’re running out of time, and we’re running out of options.”
This article originally appeared on the Across Illinois Patch