Fewer Illinois COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, in intensive-care beds or connected to ventilators than at any point in more than five weeks, a potential sign that state officials said Tuesday could show the pandemic is easing here.
During the past 24 hours, slightly more than 4,000 hospital beds were occupied statewide by those stricken by the coronavirus. Slightly fewer than 1,000 patients were in intensive care units and 576 were on ventilators.
Those are still sobering numbers. But in each case, they are less than they’ve been in all three categories since at least April 12, state public health records show.
“This is good news. This just solidifies these measures have been working, both the stay-at-home, both the masking, both the social distancing. All of those things are effective, and that’s why we have got numbers that are improving,” said Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike.
Earlier this month, she and Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker pointed to new modeling that showed Illinois’ COVID-19 peak caseload could hit as late as mid-June. But now, the governor said he is hopeful this first wave of the virus is on the decline.
“I am optimistic that we are falling from a peak,” the governor said during his Tuesday afternoon COVID-19 briefing. “However, I want to point out, if you look at all the metrics, they’re not all headed straight down. Some of them have sort of flattened. They’re floating a little bit off their peak.”
Even with the seemingly positive turn, another 146 Illinoisans died from COVID-19 during the past 24 hours, pushing the state’s overall death toll up to 4,379 since the first fatality was reported March 17. The state is approaching nearly 100,000 total cases, with 98,030 confirmed cases as of Tuesday.
Still, the hospitalization data is a key determinant in whether the state advances later this month under the governor’s five-phase reopening plan. So, too, is the rate of infection, which also showed encouraging movement.
Within the past 24 hours, Ezike said there were 1,545 new COVID-19 cases out of 18,443 tests administered statewide. That’s a positive rate of slightly more than 8%. That percentage is the lowest it has been for any day since late April when the state routinely began sharing the number of tests it processed.
In the Chicago area, that so-called positivity rate now stands at 17.5%, safely below the 20% threshold required before the region can move ahead under Pritzker’s reopening plan.
Even as deaths and new cases continue to climb, Pritzker continues to drop hints that he will ease up on his stay-at-home order, which expires May 30 and has faced a wave of litigation from churches, Republican lawmakers and at least one business.
Moving from Phase 2 of Pritzker’s plan, which all of Illinois is in now, to Phase 3 means stores, salons, barber shops and gyms could reopen on a limited basis, and nonessential employees could begin returning to work, though telework arrangements would remain “strongly encouraged” where possible.
Meanwhile, in other COVID-19 developments:
Controversial move against defiant businesses is temporary: Pritzker again defended his proposed emergency rule that would subject businesses to fines of up to $2,500 and potential jail time of up to a year for not complying with his executive order. Still, he said, this rule will only be in effect until the state begins to reopen more of its economy. A state rulemaking panel in Springfield will consider the measure on Wednesday when lawmakers begin their three-day session. With each of the four regions on pace to move to phase three at the end of the month, Pritzker downplayed the criticism from GOP lawmakers and business groups on Tuesday. “The rule is intended simply to last [until] the end of this phase, and then we’d issue a new emergency rule to fit the next phase,” Pritzker said. “It’s not something that would last five months.”
Full pension payment and no layoffs in new budget: Pritzker once again vowed to pay the full $9.8 billion pension obligation in the state’s next budget. Last year, Illinois’ pension deficit reached $137 billion, according to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. He also cautioned against dramatic cuts to state government to balance a projected $10 billion deficit through June 30, 2021. “The thing that we’re looking at as we think about balancing the budget is: Is the federal government going to step up for all of the states?” Pritzker asked.
No nursing home visits for foreseeable future: Ezike cautioned that nursing home visitations should be “one of the last things that we should be thinking about” while the pandemic continues. Nursing home deaths, she said, account for a majority of coronavirus deaths in Canada and Europe. Due to the population’s vulnerability, Ezike the state is not rushing to allow families to visit their loved ones in a long term care facility. “Having more people come in with the virus, back-and-forth, into this setting is not the solution,” she said.
Drivers’ license offices reopen for drive-through service: Illinois drivers can now renew their vehicle sticker registration in-person at seven drive-through locations across the state. The seven drive-through facilities are Chicago North, Chicago South, Chicago West, Rockford-Central, Macomb, Springfield-Dirksen and Tilton. In a statement, Secretary of State Jesse White’s office said their employees will wear face coverings and encouraged customers to do the same. Hours of operation at Chicago North, Chicago South and Chicago West will be 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday; 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; and 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Cash will not be accepted.