CHICAGO — Illinois appears to have escaped a post-Thanksgiving surge in coronavirus cases many had feared would happen, the state’s top doctor said Friday.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said she still needs to wait until Monday to get all of the COVID-19 data from this week to determine there was no bump in statistics like daily new cases, hospitalizations and positivity rates.
But it’s been 22 days since Thanksgiving and there’s been no significant surge on a statewide level.
“I am really happy to say we did not see” a significant post-Thanksgiving surge, Ezike said at a Friday news conference. “While others on the coast are surging, I think we had that a little bit earlier [in November] and are on the way down.”
As new cases, hospitalizations and deaths spiked in October and November, officials warned people shouldn’t gather for Thanksgiving or the virus’s spread could worsen and more people could die.
Gov. JB Pritzker also imposed new safety mitigations, like halting indoor service at bars and restaurants and limiting group sizes. Ezike said those mitigations might have helped stop a post-Thanksgiving surge.
Officials plan to keep those mitigations in place until at least January to prevent possible surges after Christmas, Hanukkah and other winter holidays.
Mitigations “have been helpful,” Ezike said. “So, no, we did not see a surge following Thanksgiving. I’m waiting for this final week’s tally, which will come on Monday. But so far, that is a good thing that we can report.”
Some parts of Illinois did see post-holiday bumps. Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, warned on Dec. 9 Chicago was seeing a post-Thanksgiving surge in new cases and its positivity rate.
But the city’s numbers have slightly fallen since then.
The day Arwady made her warning about the post-Thanksgiving surge, Chicago’s positivity rate was up to 13.3 percent and an average of 1,654 cases were being reported per day. But as of Friday, Chicago’s positivity rate is at 11.8 percent and it’s seeing an average of 1,502 confirmed cases per day.
Despite the recent improvements, the city’s and state’s coronavirus numbers are still far too high to roll back mitigations, officials have said.
Illinois’ positivity rate was at 8 percent Friday, above the 5 percent the WHO recommends states get to before reopening.
Pritzker said he wants to get past New Year’s before lifting mitigations on regions in Illinois.
“First of all, we’re very glad that things are moving in the right direction,” Pritzker said. “We’re also concerned the numbers have not come down as precipitously as we would have liked to have seen by now, so that’s of great concern to us.
“Having said that, it’s certainly our intention as we get through these holidays to begin to look at … reducing the tiers for various of our regions. … Remember, the reward here is ultimately we have fewer people getting sick and fewer people dying. And we of course want to allow businesses to do more as soon as we can.”
Officials have urged people to keep masking up, social distancing and celebrating the winter holidays virtually to keep people safe.
Illinois is still in the midst of a second COVID-19 wave, and thousands of Illinoisans have been killed by coronavirus in the past month.
Officials worry there could be a surge on top of that as people are tempted to visit family, friends and gather without taking safety precautions for holidays like Hanukkah and Christmas.
“Experts believe this could be the deadliest time of the pandemic,” Pritzker said at a Thursday coronavirus update.
People should limit their celebrations to virtual meetups and “stick with the people you live with,” Ezike said Thursday.
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