By BEN ORNER
Capitol News Illinois
For the first time since Illinois had its first reported case of COVID-19 in January, the state saw fewer deaths in a week than in the previous week.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said Tuesday that 780 people died from the virus this past week. There were 790 deaths the previous week.
And although that number “represents 780 individuals who lost their lives and families and loved ones and communities who are mourning those deaths,” Ezike said it makes her “hopeful that this fact is the beginning of a downward trend.”
Ezike and Gov. JB Pritzker’s COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday was the first to be held at Chicago’s Thompson Center since a governor’s office staffer tested positive for the virus two weeks ago, forcing briefings to go virtual. Pritzker held briefings at the Capitol in Springfield last week during the Legislature’s special session.
Pritzker said the staffer has fully recovered and is back at work.
IDPH reported 1,178 new cases of the virus on Tuesday and 39 additional deaths, bringing the state’s total to 113,195 cases and 4,923 deaths.
Ezike noted, though, that the state reported relatively low increases in cases and deaths because reporting is generally lower on weekends and because employees at state testing labs had Monday off for Memorial Day. She said numbers will “pick up again” on Wednesday.
As of midnight Tuesday, 3,788 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, while 1,035 were in intensive care and 590 were on ventilators. Ezike said those numbers were not affected by the weekend. There were 17,230 tests recorded in the previous 24 hours, bringing the state’s total to more than 787,000.
Ezike also said Illinois received its third shipment of Remdesivir from the federal government last week. The intravenous treatment has been able to shorten patients’ hospitalization stays in early clinical trials. The state received 353 cases in its latest shipment, each of which Ezike said can be used to treat about five patients.
She said IDPH distributed the drug to hospitals across the state based on criteria including the number of patients and availability of beds and ventilators.
“Every hospital with at least one laboratory-confirmed or probable COVID-19 case using a hospital bed between May 12 and 18 received at least one case,” Ezike said.
She said state health officials expect additional shipments of Remdesivir to arrive next week.
Although the drug has shown early progress, Ezike said, “until we have a definitive cure and a vaccine, we must continue to protect ourselves from the virus and prevent further spread.”
“As always, please stay home, wear a mask when you are not at home and keep six feet of distance between you and others,” she said.
Illinois conquers peak
Pritzker during Tuesday’s briefing offered a more definitive marker of the state’s progress in its fight against COVID-19: Illinois has surpassed its peak in cases.
“Looking at the numbers on a daily basis, looking at a weekly average basis,” he said, “…we seem to have come off the peak.”
All four regions in the Restore Illinois reopening plan are still on track to move into Phase 3 on Friday, according to IDPH figures. Each region has a positive case rate below 20 percent, stable hospitalizations and hospital bed availability above 14 percent.
The statewide rate of tests with positive results, which hit a high of 23 percent in late April, is now averaging 9.2 percent for the past 7 days. Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 are at a six-week low after holding steady earlier this month. Also, the availability rates of both hospital beds and ICU beds are above 30 percent.
“So as we look at each individual region, you see the same trends playing out everywhere,” Pritzker said.
The governor credited the face covering requirement in place since May 1 for the progress made this month.
“Since we implemented that one change, we saw all the numbers that had already stabilized then begin to fall,” he said, adding that social distancing, hand washing and other measures have allowed the state to move quickly through its first reopening phases.
Among the changes coming in Phase 3 is the limited reopening of businesses like barbershops, salons and non-essential stores. Friday will be the first time in more than two months those businesses will be allowed to open their doors.
Another change coming soon to Illinois’ stay-at-home status quo is the ability for bars and restaurants to sell pre-mixed drinks to-go.
House Bill 2682 passed both chambers of the Legislature during last week’s special session, and Pritzker said he is waiting only for the House and Senate clerk to give him the final version of the bill to sign into law.
“I’ll sign it as soon as it comes to my desk,” he said.
Over the weekend the state released health guidance for industries operating during Phase 3, including manufacturers, offices and restaurants – the latter of which will be able to open outdoor seating.
“These protocols offer a minimum expectation of what operations should look like for these businesses moving forward,” Pritzker said.
Later in the briefing, Pritzker stressed the state is still in an urgent public health crisis, when responding to reports of Illinoisans traveling to Wisconsin and Indiana for outdoor Memorial Day activities and then returning.
“The pandemic is still here. Just because the numbers are moving in the right direction in the state of Illinois, that does not mean that the virus has gone away,” he said.