SPRINGFIELD – As infection rates and hospitalizations from COVID-19 continued to level off during the first week of December, death tolls continued to rise, prompting Gov. J.B. Pritzker to warn Monday, Dec. 7 that Illinois is not yet out of the danger zone and that the next four weeks could be the most crucial of the pandemic.
“In other words, the surge on top of a surge that national experts have said might define the holiday season is still the focus of our attention,” Pritzker said at his daily COVID-19 briefing in Chicago.
During the first seven days of December, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data, the state recorded an average of just under 10,000 new cases and 153 virus-related deaths each day, bringing the statewide totals since the pandemic began to 796,264 confirmed and probable cases and 13,343 fatalities.
Those fatalities included 372 individuals who had died since Friday afternoon. Saturday, Dec. 5, saw 208 virus-related deaths alone, the second-highest single-day number since the pandemic began.
Although the daily number of new cases remained high during the week, the overall case positivity rate — new cases as a percentage of tests performed — remained relatively stable. As of Monday, the seven-day rolling average positivity rate stood at 10.3 percent, marking the 15th consecutive day it stayed below 11 percent.
“So far, we haven’t seen our positivity rates start to creep back up, which is a good sign,” Pritzker said. “But we also haven’t seen it substantially fall — not a good sign. It may be that our mitigations are working to offset the expected surge in cases. But we won’t know that for sure, for at least two more weeks.”
Hospitalization rates, however, continued to fall for the second straight week. From Nov. 30, through Dec. 6, the average daily hospitalization count from COVID-19 stood at 5,484, down 7.7 percent from the week before, and down 9.5 percent from the period ending Nov. 23. At the end of Sunday, there were 5,190 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois, an increase of 30 from the day prior.
There were 1,123 intensive care beds in use by COVID-19 patients as of Sunday, Dec. 6 an increase of 20 from the day prior. That left 21.1 percent of ICU beds open statewide, while the seven-day average for ICU bed usage stood at 1,153. That was a decrease of 4.6 percent, or 56, from the prior seven-day period. It’s the first time since mid-September the average decreased on a weekly basis.
COVID-19 patients occupied 648 ventilators as of Sunday, an increase of five from the day prior. The seven-day average for ventilator use stood at 688 as of Sunday, a decrease of 11, or 1.6 percent, from the previous seven-day period.
COVID-19 hospitalization rates, however, still remained 14 percent higher than the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in April and May, Pritzker said. According to IDPH data, as of Sunday only 28 percent of the state’s staffed hospital beds remained available, and Pritzker warned that another surge in cases could stretch the state’s hospital resources to their limits.
Monday marked the 18th day since the Tier 3 mitigations took effect in Illinois, which include closing bars and restaurants to indoor service and limiting the size of public gatherings, both indoors and outdoors, as well as the cancelation of many recreational activities.
But Monday, Dec. 7 was also just the 10th day since Thanksgiving, when many people throughout the country ignored public health warnings by traveling to visit friends and families in large gatherings.
Pritzker said he was hopeful that the improving trend lines would continue.
“But to be clear, the numbers still have a long way to go to move away from what could reasonably be called the danger zone,” he added.
Heading into the December holiday season, both Pritzker and IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike urged Illinoisans to celebrate in smaller, more intimate groups to reduce the spread of the disease. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to grant Emergency Use Authorization to COVID-19 vaccines in the coming days, Pritzker said it could be a number of months before most people in Illinois have access to them.
In the meantime, Ezike also urged Illinoisans to get vaccinated against the seasonal flu in order to avoid what she called a “twindemic.”