CHICAGO (CBS) -- Illinois reported a huge surge in COVID-19 cases and tests on Wednesday, due at least in part to a lag in reports from testing labs due to the Thanksgiving holiday, as well as a rise in cases linked to family gatherings and travel over the holiday weekend.
The Illinois Department of Public Health announced 11,524 new cases were reported on Thursday, which is the highest daily case count this year, but there were also 231,876 new tests reported, which is an all-time record, and the first time IDPH has reported more than 200,000 tests in a day.
Both the number of new tests and new cases reported on Thursday were nearly double Wednesday's totals, and the 11,524 new cases are the most reported in a single day in more than a year. Illinois had reported more than 6,000 new cases in a day only once before since mid-January, before vaccines were widely available.
However, an IDPH spokesperson said the increase could be due in part to a delay in receiving test results from some labs due to the Thanksgiving holiday, though she acknowledged cases linked to Thanksgiving celebrations also are rising.
"Thanksgiving was one week ago and we are starting to see cases associated with family gatherings and travel. Additionally, there may be lags in reporting by laboratories over the long holiday weekend and we could see those results being reported now," IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said in an email.
The state's seven-day average case positivity rate stands at 4.7%, the highest it's been since early September, but still well below earlier surges during the pandemic. The state's average infection rate reached as high as 20% during the first wave of the pandemic, and as high as 13% during the fall surge last year.
A total of 2,537 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in Illinois as of Wednesday night, the most since late January, but still well below the peak of more than 6,000 hospitalizations during the fall surge last year.
The surge in cases comes as the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 is only starting to emerge in the United States, with the first case reported in California on Wednesday, and another case confirmed Thursday in a Minnesota resident who had recently traveled to New York.
Gov. JB Pritzker said Thursday it's likely there are already undetected Omicron cases in Illinois.
Pritzker said public health officials are still working hard to determine whether the Omicron variant is any more transmissible or more likely to result in serious illness than other strains of the virus.
"What we've seen is that hospitalizations are going up, and there hasn't been a worse level of sickness anyway, so far, among those hospitalizations. It's just mostly unvaccinated people, and so it's unclear is Omicron attacking people who are unvaccinated more often than they are vaccinated people? I believe that's the case, because that seems to be the case with everything else about this disease, but we'll have to see," Pritzker said.
Even before the emergence of the new Omicron variant, COVID-19 cases were rising in Illinois, a development public health officials said they expected with people spending more time indoors as the weather gets colder heading into winter.
Pritzker said he does not expect to lift the state's indoor mask mandate anytime soon, but also isn't yet planning any new restrictions on businesses during the current surge in cases.
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