Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker issued a strong warning to the state’s residents Wednesday: Wear a mask and keep social distancing before the state sees exponential growth in COVID-19 cases again.
Pritzker reported that the state has seen gradual — yet persistent — growth in the number of new coronavirus cases over the past several weeks. On Wednesday, Illinois reported 1,598 new cases — the highest number of cases it has seen since June 2. That accounts for more than 4% of people tested in the last 24 hours.
“A gradually rising positivity rate is exactly when the exponential factors can take over,” Pritzker warned. “Let’s not let that happen again.”
The Metro East region outside of St. Louis is seeing particularly high numbers lately. It reported a 6.9% average positivity rate over the seven days ending on July 19. In comparison, the city of Chicago has consistently reported a 3.9% positivity rate over the same time frame, according to state data.
The Democrat argued that when businesses — particularly bars — do not follow the state’s guidance and limit the number of people inside or require people to social distance, then that leads to more transmission of the virus. He also said a customer who was on a party bus in the Metro East area that takes customers from one bar to another tested positive.
Pritzker also repeatedly and forcefully told residents to wear a mask when in public.
“If you’re not wearing a mask, you’re doing it wrong,” he said. “It demonstrates a callous disregard for the people in your community and in your county and in our state and our nation. The enemy is not your mask. If you’re not wearing a mask in public, you’re endangering everyone around you. So the enemy is you.”
In all, public health officials have attributed 7,347 Illinois deaths to COVID-19.
Pritzker on Wednesday also said he is extending the statewide eviction moratorium through Aug. 22. Starting the week of Aug. 10, Pritzker said the state will begin accepting applications for a grant program to help qualified individuals get financial relief to pay their rent or mortgage.
The governor also warned the public about a scam playing out across the country in which fraudsters are using stolen identities to get unemployment benefits through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Pritzker warned the public to not activate an unemployment debit card received in the mail. He encouraged people who have received such a debit card in the mail — but didn’t apply for unemployment benefits — to contact the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.