DOWNTOWN — The number of people hospitalized with coronavirus has doubled in the past month in Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker said Wednesday as he announced new COVID-19 safety precautions.
The governor rang alarm bells during the news conference, his first COVID-19 update in months. It came as Delta fuels another surge in Chicago and across the rest of Illinois.
The state has seen COVID-19 cases “soar by a factor of nearly 10,” and the number of people being hospitalized and admitted to the ICU due to the virus has doubled in a month, Pritzker said.
As of Tuesday night, 246 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 94 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.
“I wish we could have avoided having COVID interfere with our summer,” Pritzker said. “But the virus and its effects are increasing once again.
“We all must take immediate and urgent action to slow the spread of the Delta variant. People are dying who don’t have to die. It’s heartbreaking, and it impacts us all.”
The increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations is also being seen among young people, said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health. Most children who get COVID-19 will have fewer symptoms than adults, but they can get the virus and spread it, she said.
“We have clearly witnessed that spread this summer throughout Illinois,” Ezike said. Later, she said, “Masks are a critical tool to interrupt transmission of the virus. … Vaccine is our even stronger tool. It’s our best tool.”
Pritzker said Illinois will now mandate indoor masking for all people in every school in hopes of protecting students, staff and communities. That extends to sports, as youth and coaches will be required to wear masks when playing indoors. If outside, people are not required to wear masks.
State workers in congregate facilities — including veterans homes and correctional facilities — must also get vaccinated, Pritzker said. They have until Oct. 4 to get their shots.
“By and large, residents of these state-run facilities have done what they can do to protect themselves by getting vaccinated,” Pritzker said. “And yet, many of the long-term care facilities’ employees have … not been vaccinated.”
The state will also require universal masking in private and public long-term facilities, Pritzker said.
The state has a “menu” of options to choose from when it comes to deciding how to slow Delta’s spread, Pritzker said. Its latest safety precautions are aimed at keeping “the most vulnerable populations” safe, he said.
The state is not currently requiring teachers to be vaccinated, nor is it looking at ways to “compel” private businesses to require their employees be vaccinated.
“This is what we think is the right thing to do to get us through this current wave,” Pritzker said. “But, again, we’re evaluating every day. This virus — I think I don’t need to say it again, but I will — this virus is, frankly, something that has been difficult for us to see what the trajectory is because there have been new variants introduced.”
Pritzker urged people to get vaccinated and to talk to others about getting their shots, saying it’s the “most important thing you can do to keep yourself, your community safe.”
The Delta variant has had its the largest impact on people who are not fully vaccinated: In June, 96 percent of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois were not fully vaccinated, and the majority were younger than 60, Pritzker said.
In Chicago, about 97 percent of people who have been hospitalized with or died from COVID-19 since January were did not have all their shots.
The governor also urged people who have gotten their shots to stay optimistic and talk to unvaccinated people about getting better protected.
“I know this is hard. You did the right thing for yourself, for your family, your community — and now, because of the new Delta variant and the high number of unvaccinated people in the United States, it feels like we’re going backwards in this journey,” Pritzker said.
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