CHICAGO (CBS) -- Despite recent dips in COVID-19 cases statewide, Gov. JB Pritzker said the statewide virus restrictions currently in place won't be rolled back for at least a few weeks, on the advice of the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, as state officials monitor the situation to make sure there isn't a post-Thanksgiving surge.
Nearly two weeks ago, Pritzker announced new "Tier 3" regional mitigation efforts for every region of the state, including tighter limits for retailers; and requiring museums, theaters, and casinos to close; and lower capacity limits for public gatherings.
While those restrictions can be lifted on a regional basis if certain areas of the state see drops in positivity rate and hospitalizations, and meet a minimum hospital capacity threshold, the governor said Monday the current mitigations won't be lifted for at least a few weeks, even if some regions are on track to move back to "Tier 2" mitigations soon.
"We are still very much in a precarious place, and we have got to take the time to evaluate any Thanksgiving effect before we make any premature adjustments," Pritzker said at his regular coronavirus briefing Monday afternoon.
To qualify for moving back to "Tier 2" mitigations, a region must get its seven-day average test positivity rate below 12% for at least three days in a row, must have at least 20% of its hospital beds and intensive care unit beds available for at least three days in a row, and must have declining coronavirus hospitalizations for 7 of the past 10 days. While no regions have yet to meet all three of those thresholds, Chicago and a handful of other regions have met at least two, and are on track to meet all three in a matter of days if their current trends continue.
Moving back to "Tier 2" mitigations would allow museums, theaters, and casinos to reopen; retail stores to increase capacity limits; and larger capacity for most public gatherings. Indoor dining and bar service would remain prohibited, however.
Pritzker said he spoke to the Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Monday, for input on the COVID-19 situation in Illinois. The governor said Fauci told him the massive number of indoor gatherings across the nation over the holiday weekend likely will bring a post-Thanskgiving surge in new cases and hospitalizations in the coming weeks.
"He believes this is no time to pull back on mitigations," Pritzker said.
The governor said experts at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago also agreed with Fauci's assessment.
"When the nation's experts and state experts agree that the virus may become significantly more pervasive in the coming weeks, it's important to listen to them, and I am," Pritzker said. "The hope now is that we can fend off the surge in the next few weeks to get to a healthier holiday time in the latter half of December."
The governor's warning of a post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases came as the Illinois Department of Public Health on Monday reported 6,190 new confirmed and probable cases of the virus, as well as 85 additional deaths. The daily case count on Monday was the lowest Illinois has seen in more than a month, although testing is also down across the state over the past week, likely due to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Illinois is averaging 8,812 new cases per day over the past week, down from an average of 11,339 daily cases the previous week, but more than five times higher than the 2,052 cases per day during the first seven days of October.
However, testing also is down significantly over the past week. Illinois averaged 86,431 tests per day over the past seven days, compared to 104,504 tests per day during the prior week.
Pritzker noted that, while hospitalizations are also down slightly over the past few days, they are still far higher than just two months ago, or even during the peak of the first surge this spring.
As of Thursday night, 5,849 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in Illinois, including 1,217 patients in intensive care, and 715 on ventilators. While hospitalizations seem to have started trending downward since peaking at 6,175 on Nov. 20, there are still far more COVID-19 patients in the hospital at the end of November than at the start of October.
Illinois is averaging 5,944 coronavirus hospitalizations per day over the last week, more than four times the average of about 1,500 per day at the start of October. During the first wave of the pandemic, the state peaked at an average of 4,822 hospitalizations per day in early May.
"Although the last few days have offered a hint of potential progress in some of our statewide metrics, the number of patients fighting COVID-19 in our hospital systems statewide still eclipses our spring peak by 23%. We had hoped to see more progress in lowering hospitalizations by now," Pritzker said. "The dip in Illinois' cases over the last few days comes as we are seeing near-record high numbers of hospitalizations, meaning our ability to handle any new surge in COVID patients is still limited. If we are not especially careful right now, the surge will overwhelm our state's healthcare system."
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike urged anyone who celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday in-person with someone outside of their own household to get tested for the virus later this week.
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