Note: Any news conferences from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot or other officials will be streamed in the video player above.
Chicago’s top health official said Thursday that it has been “not a good week for COVID,” with cases up 30% compared to the same point one week prior.
Her warning came as sources said the city is expected to announce a plan for the second quarter of the school year, bringing some students back but keeping most remote.
Meanwhile, the state of Illinois set a new one-day record for new coronavirus cases on Thursday, reporting more than 4,000 new cases.
Here are the latest updates from across Illinois on the coronavirus pandemic today (Oct. 16):
‘This is Not a Good Week for COVID,’ Chicago’s Top Doctor Says
Coronavirus cases in the city of Chicago were up 30% Thursday afternoon compared to the same point one week earlier, according to Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Public Health.
During a news conference with members of the city’s Latinx Coronavirus Prevention Task Force on the Near West Side, Arwady said cases have increased among all race and ethnicity groups, almost all age groups and all parts of the city.
Not only Chicago, but Illinois and the Midwest have also reported surges in COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Arwady said while she knows people are tired of COVID-19, residents need to continue to employ mitigation strategies like wearing masks in public, practicing social distancing and washing hands regularly.
“Right now we need people more than ever to do things that we know work,” she said.
Overall in the city of Chicago, the positivity rate was at 4.5% Thursday. In some of the city’s Latino communities on the Southwest and Northwest sides, positivity rates were as high as 8-9% and even 13-14% percent, Arwady said.
The city continues to see approximately 400 to 500 new daily cases, compared to its peak in May, when more than 1,000 cases were reported daily.
The majority of the cases in early May, Arwady added, were the result of spread in congregate facilities such as longterm care facilities, jails and homeless shelters.
“We actually have made, I think, very significant progress in a lot of those areas that were part of the initial surge,” she said.
Currently, more than 90 percent of cases of COVID-19 are associated with spread among family members, close friends and neighbors, Arwady said, citing specific examples of transmission like a group sitting down for dinner, playing a board game or having a conversation.
“It’s very natural to let your guard down among people who you love and who you feel comfortable with,” she stated. “But COVID is just looking for any opportunity to spread.”
CPS Set to Announce Return to Classrooms for Some Students, Remote Learning for Most: Sources
Chicago Public Schools is expected to announce on Friday a plan to bring some students back into classrooms in the second quarter, but keep most students remote learning from home, sources told NBC 5.
The upcoming announcement will likely involve bringing pre-K and special education students back for in-person instruction, sources said.
The Chicago Teachers Union said in a statement such a plan “defies the science and puts thousands of students, family members and educators at risk from the deadly pandemic.”
“The mayor’s move to in-person learning also defies the standards that CPS itself set this summer, when the district said that the city should be showing fewer than 400 new cases daily based on a seven-day rolling average, or fewer than 200 new cases daily if those numbers come with concerning epidemiological factors like rapid increase of cases and inadequate hospital capacity,” the union said in a statement.
An official announcement from the district is expected to take place Friday, but details on when that announcement will be made have not yet been released.
The long-awaited answers come less than one month before the start of the district’s second quarter, which some hoped would mark the start of a hybrid learning plan for students.
Last week, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said a decision regarding CPS’ learning plan for the second quarter would be coming “relatively soon,” but declined to comment on the direction the district might lean in November.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt whatsoever that children learn best, particularly our youngest children with in person instruction,” Lightfoot said. “Again, I will defer to CPS, but we’ve never stopped looking towards the future and what the possibilities would be, and we continue to follow the public health guidance. And I believe the CPS will have an announcement on that issue relatively soon.”
Meanwhile, students have started an online petition against CPS, asking the state’s largest school district to reduce e-learning hours to just four.
The petition had more than 38,000 signatures as of Wednesday evening.
At this time, CPS has no plans to reduce hours, but told NBC 5 that students don’t spend a full eight hours in front of the screen for e-learning.
“Chicago Public Schools built upon lessons learned from the spring to create a more consistent, high-quality learning experience for students that guarantees live instruction every day, which is something parents indicated they wanted. Strengthened standards and structures were needed to ensure students have access to the daily live instruction they deserve and we are deeply sympathetic to the challenges and competing priorities families are balancing during this unprecedented time.”
Late last month, Lightfoot acknowledged that while remote learning is a “real challenge for everyone involved,” she said “we’re not there yet” when it comes to resuming in-person learning.
CPS began its new school year with remote instruction Sept. 8 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In early August, Lightfoot said the decision to start the school year remotely was “rooted in public health,” but at the time said the district sought to establish a hybrid learning model in the second quarter.
The second quarter is set to start Nov. 9.
The mayor said she knows “there’s a lot of anxiety on the part of the parent,” but it’s important for the city to consider the health of principals, teachers and staff members.
Illinois Reports New 1-Day Record of More Than 4,000 New Coronavirus Cases
Illinois health officials on Thursday reported more than 4,000 new coronavirus cases, a record high one-day total, as well as 53 additional deaths.
The Illinois Department of Public Health announced 4,015 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 Thursday, setting a new record and bringing statewide totals to 331,620 cases. The 53 additional deaths brought the total number of fatalities to 9,127 deaths since the pandemic began.
A total of 67,086 tests were performed in the previous 24 hours, officials said, a significant increase from the day before.
State health officials said that beginning Thursday, IDPH was including both molecular and antigen tests in its number of statewide tests performed. IDPH said that antigen tests previously comprised less than 1% of tests performed and were not included before due to a “limited number of antigen tests and limited information about antigen test accuracy.”
But Illinois health officials said Thursday that antigen tests were becoming more readily available, and would therefore be included in the daily counts.
The record high number of cases can’t be entirely attributed to the large amount of tests conducted, however, because although a high number of tests were reported, the 7-day rolling statewide positivity rate also jumped from 4.6% to 4.9% on Thursday, continuing to rise once again.
As of Wednesday night, 1,932 people in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 388 patients were in the ICU and 147 patients were on ventilators.
The latest figures came one day after Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned Illinois was heading in a “concerning direction” as all of the state’s 11 health care regions have seen an increase in testing positivity rates.
“Unfortunately, all 11 regions have seen an increase in positivity compared to where we were at last week’s update. Statewide, our positivity rate has grown by more than one full percentage point in the last week alone. And in most regions, COVID-like hospital admissions have increased in the same time period,” he said during a news conference Wednesday.
“To date, Illinois has had relative success in keeping this virus at bay, and we’re still doing better than many of our neighbors, but we can’t let up – and these numbers are indicating a concerning direction,” he continued.
University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business Switches to E-Learning After COVID-19 Cases
Officials at the University of Chicago announced Wednesday that all classes in its Booth School of Business will transition to remote learning for at least the next two weeks after multiple students tested positive for coronavirus after attending an off-campus gathering.
According to an email sent out by the school, a large group of full-time MBA students at the business school gathered off-campus on Chicago’s North Side. Many in attendance did not wear masks, and in the time since the gathering, multiple students have tested positive for COVID-19.
As a result, all business school classes at the school’s Hyde Park and downtown Chicago Booth campuses will be conducted remotely for two weeks.
All students involved in the gathering will be required to quarantine and to get tested for coronavirus. In all, more than 100 MBA students are affected, and will need to quarantine for a period of two weeks.
“We ask everyone on campus to once again review the terms of the UChicago Health Pact and to uphold its principles,” officials said in an email to students and faculty. “It takes only one incident like this to put many others at risk.”
Coronavirus Positivity Rate Has Increased in All of Illinois’ 11 Regions, Pritzker Warns
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday that the coronavirus testing positivity rate has risen in all 11 of the state’s health care regions, warning that the state is moving in a “concerning direction.”
As of Wednesday, the statewide positivity rate in testing was up to 4.6%, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Pritzker said that marked an increase of more than a full percentage point in the last week alone. He also noted that in the same time period, hospital admissions for COVID-like symptoms have also increased.
Both indicators are metrics the state uses in determining each region’s response to the pandemic – if a region sees a sustained increase in its rolling average positivity rate as well as a 7-day increase in hospital admissions or a reduction in hospital capacity, or simply three days averaging higher than an 8% positivity rate, the region automatically triggers new restrictions like closing of indoor bars and restaurants, limits on group sizes and more.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers a coronavirus update for Illinois on Oct. 14.
“To date, Illinois has had relative success in keeping this virus at bay, and we’re still doing better than many of our neighbors, but we can’t let up – and these numbers are indicating a concerning direction,” Pritzker said Wednesday.
“I want to reiterate the call that IDPH and I have repeatedly made to local health departments and local officials: pay close attention to your community and have the courage to take action when the local data indicate a problem,” he added. “I have one simple message for everyone in areas with rising positivity: Mask Up! Just do that one simple thing, and it will make a tremendous difference in keeping infections down.”
Pritzker noted that Region 5, encompassing parts of southern Illinois, has surpassed an 8% positivity rate, up from 5.8% on Sept. 30. As of Wednesday, Pritzker said the region’s rolling average was at 7.7% but that if it surpassed 8% again and stayed there, it would face stricter mitigations.
One region is currently under the stricter mitigations: Region 1, home top Rockford, Dixon and Galena, which saw the restrictions tighten on Oct. 3 after surpassing the 8% threshold. Pritzker said Wednesday that the positivity rate has continued to climb and sits at 10.1%, though hospital admissions have stabilized in the area.
Regions 4 and 7 had previously seen tighter restrictions automatically triggered, but those mitigations were removed after the regions’ metrics fell below the state’s threshold.
Pritzker used those regions as an example to encourage the rest of the state.
“To the residents of Region 1: We’re rooting for you – each of you have a direct role in making a change to bring your numbers down. Region 4 and Region 7 have demonstrated that it is possible to bring down that positivity rate with the tools we know to work: wear a mask, keep some physical distance, and encourage those who flout public health guidance to act with consideration for the whole community,” he said.
Illinois To Calculate Region 6 Metrics Without UIUC Saliva Test, Responding to ‘Skewed Results’
Illinois health officials Wednesday said that the state’s Region 6 will have a new way of calculating coronavirus metrics after a university’s saliva test has potentially skewed calculations.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that Region 6 will now report metrics separate from those at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as the school’s mass saliva testing could give an inaccurate representation of the region.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been performing repeated saliva testing of staff and students twice a week since the school developed the test in August. That test enables the school, and thus, Champaign County, to report thousands of tests each day.
“The (Illinois Department of Public Health) determined that it would be better to measure the region by taking those and putting them aside as we’re measuring whether mitigations will be necessary in the totality of that region, putting apart just the campus of UIUC,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker explained that he agrees with the health department that this new way of measuring will be more accurate.
Illinois health officials said last month that the tests performed at that U of I campus can average up to 20% of all tests done in the state in some weeks.
“We think that’s a terrific thing, by the way, what they’re doing, and so more power to them,” Pritzker said. “We do want to spread it across the state as much as we can.”
Pritzker said the University of Illinois is working to expand its saliva testing statewide and to other colleges, but needs to ensure there are enough available resources.
Ezike Defends Illinois Coronavirus Death Statistics, Says Data Constantly Scrutinized
While the accuracy of the number of coronavirus-related fatalities in Illinois has been a source of discussion and debate since the pandemic began, health officials say that they are constantly auditing the number of fatalities to ensure as accurate of a count as possible.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, says that in her department’s accounting of COVID-19 related fatalities, they have found that less than 0.6% of the deaths classified as COVID fatalities involved another primary cause of death that wasn’t related to the virus itself.
“When we have looked at all the deaths that have occurred, and unfortunately there have been over 9,074 at this point, we have looked at those that were related to an accident or obviously not proximate to the COVID-19 virus,” she said during a press conference Wednesday. “It was less than 0.6% of those deaths were in that category where it was an accident, or homicide, or something where the COVID diagnosis was not the proximate cause of death.”
There have been multiple reports of deaths that were classified as COVID-19 related that turned out to have another “proximate” cause, with Ezike citing cases involving auto accidents, homicides or suicides that were erroneously included in the number of coronavirus deaths in the state.
Even with those numbers in mind, Ezike says that 2020 has seen uptick in the number of total deaths when compared to other years, and while not all of those additional fatalities can be attributed to the virus, she says that many can be either indirectly or directly tied to the ongoing pandemic that has cost over 9,000 Illinois residents their lives.
Ezike cited an increase in accidental overdoses as another factor in the increased number of fatalities in the state this year, along with individuals not seeking prompt medical care out of fear that they could be infected with the coronavirus when going to a doctor’s office or a hospital.
“It’s a conglomeration of all of those things that have caused the deaths to be much higher than they were in previous years,” she said.
Arwady Warns of Indoor Gatherings Ahead of Winter Months
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Alison Arwady warned Tuesday of the risks associated with indoor gatherings before colder temperatures hit.
Arwady said for an indoor space to be considered “safe,” people should be wearing a mask, keeping six feet of distance and avoiding large crowds.
Increased ventilation can slow the spread of COVID-19, according to Arwady citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and can be done by opening windows to bring in outdoor air.
Arwady recommended focusing on the flow of outdoor air circulating indoors as opposed to turning on fans, which could bring airflow downward toward individuals.
Health officials said that ultra violet lights that individuals can “just buy” are not recommended to clean surfaces from the coronavirus, unless they are used at a “very high” level.
Arwady said that though air filtration and open windows can aid in decreasing the spread of the virus, it cannot other replace important precautions.
For people visiting another home, Arwady said that person should be “in the same bubble.” The top health official suggested that people not within the social distancing bubble, should meet outdoors.
“Generally speaking, always fewer interactions are safer from a COVID perspective,” Arwady said. “If you have to the think twice, safer activities broadly are ones that avoid crowds, where everybody can wear a mask, everybody can keep a six foot distance and they’re outdoors. As outdoors is less of an option, you got to double down on those other things.”