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 mayor and top doctor again warned Wednesday that the Thanksgiving holiday could become a "super spreading event" in the deadly coronavirus pandemic, pleading again with residents to skip gatherings.
But as travelers hit the road and travel hubs despite warnings from health officials, experts are bracing for the potential of a post-holiday coronavirus surge. But what might that look like?
Here are the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic across the state of Illinois today (Nov. 26):
Illinois Reports 12,022 New COVID Cases, 131 Additional Deaths
Illinois reported 12,022 new confirmed and probable coronavirus cases Thursday, along with 131 additional deaths attributed to the virus as state and local health officials pleaded with residents not to gather for the Thanksgiving holiday.
According to the latest data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, the new case total brings the state to 697,489 cases of the virus since the pandemic began in March. The 131 deaths reported Thursday brought the state to 11,963 deaths amid the ongoing pandemic.
The state continued robust testing numbers in the six-figure range, with 107,556 new tests performed over the last 24 hours, lifting the state to 10,212,093 coronavirus tests performed since the pandemic began.
The seven-day positivity rate dropped slightly Thursday, falling to 10.3% from 10.6% the day before, which was up from 10.4% on Tuesday. Thursday's decline marked the seventh day in which the positivity rate had fallen in the last nine days, after rising rapidly over the past month.
The state continues to see large numbers of hospitalizations related to the virus. In all, 6,032 patients are currently hospitalized for the virus in Illinois, with 1,224 of those patients in intensive care unit beds and 724 on ventilators.
27 Veterans Die in COVID-19 Outbreak at Illinois VA Home
State officials are investigating a coronavirus outbreak at a veterans nursing home in rural Illinois that has infected nearly 200 residents and staff, and killed 27 veterans.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office and the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs are attempting to determine what caused the outbreak at the state-run LaSalle Veterans Home in LaSalle, about 90 miles southwest of Chicago.
The department on Tuesday requested an independent probe into the facility, which was the focus of a state Senate committee virtual hearing on the outbreak.
“The tragedy of what has unfolded at the veterans’ home cannot be understated," said state Sen. Sue Rezin, who represents the district where the home is located. “I’m glad that the director has called for an independent investigation and agree that there are lesson to be learned from this terrible outbreak that has claimed the lives of 27 of our nation’s heroes.”
The current outbreak was identified in late October when a staff member and a resident tested positive for the virus. Since the beginning of November, two-thirds of residents and employees have tested positive, according to the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.
“November 4th, there were only four cases of COVID within the home,” Rezin said Monday. “Very quickly within the past 20 days, we’ve had almost 200 cases.”
Dr. Avery Hart, a consultant for the state’s Public Health department, said at the hearing that all 16 long-term care facilities in LaSalle County have had outbreaks.
“It is no coincidence that cases within the home began to rise just as cases rose dramatically within the surrounding community,” Veterans Affairs Director Linda Chapa LaVia testified Tuesday at the hearing.
State officials have increased staff testing at the facility, and the governor said an infection control team was sent to the home. As of Tuesday morning, 40 of 101 residents and 24 staff members had tested positive for the virus.
What Illinois Health Officials Say Could be Early Signs of a Post-Thanksgiving Surge
As airports and travel hubs fill up with Thanksgiving travelers despite warnings from health officials in the state and country, experts are bracing for the potential of a post-Thanksgiving coronavirus surge.
But what will that look like?
According to Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the first sign of a surge will be an increase in cases one to two weeks after the holiday.
"That will be a sign that maybe there was spreading at the Thanksgiving holiday," Ezike said during a briefing Wednesday.
Health experts have long said that hospitalizations and deaths typically follow a spike in cases, so those numbers will likely be the first indicator.
Here's When Anyone Potentially Exposed at Thanksgiving Should Get a COVID Test
Although federal and state health officials are encouraging residents not to gather for the Thanksgiving holiday due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, officials do have a recommendation for those who fear that they’ve come into contact with the virus over the holiday.
During a press availability Wednesday, IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezikie said that state residents who fear they’ve been exposed to the virus should not immediately rush out and get tested, saying that unless they’re showing symptoms, they should wait at least one week prior to getting tested.
“We would like people to wait at least a week,” she said. “We know it can take up to 14 days to show the signs of infection if you got infected, but most people who will show a positive test by day seven.”
Although Ezike says that most infections show symptoms within a week of exposure to the virus, that is not always the case, and that residents should exercise caution for 14 days after a potential exposure.
“Always wear your mask and try to keep distance if you have been in a high-risk setting and you know you’ve potentially come into contact with others,” she said. “Take precautions before you get a test result.”
Ezike also cautioned state residents not to use a negative test as an excuse to halt quarantining, saying that residents can certainly test negative for the virus and then later test positive if they begin to develop symptoms.
Ezike also emphasized that residents should get tested as soon as possible if they begin to show symptoms of the virus.
Symptoms of the virus widely vary, and some patients who are diagnosed with the virus could show mild-to-no symptoms at all. Common symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea.
Chicago's COVID Hospitalizations, Deaths May Not Peak for Several Weeks: Arwady
Chicago's coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths likely won't peak for several weeks, possibly even longer if the city sees a post-Thanksgiving surge in cases, according to the city's top public health official.
With Thanksgiving approaching, both Chicago and state health officials have expressed concerns over the rising number of coronavirus hospitalizations, but Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said a mid-December peak is an optimistic estimate.
As of Wednesday, Chicago reported more than 1,000 patients in hospitals with COVID-19 and more than 300 people in intensive care units. Both of those numbers mark an increased from early October and the city has "not seen any slowing."
According to Arwady, there's usually a 17-day lag between a rise in cases and a surge in ICU patients. Because of that, Chicago's hospitalizations could peak in mid-December, followed later by a peak in deaths.
"That would be if we can hold the very early progress that we have seen," she said. "And that's a big if I think across the country. There has not been any signs of flattening at all in hospitalizations or breaking records. And there's not going to be a lot of capacity to surge hospital staff, in particular, between regions. So the reason we're kind of, you know, have sounded this alarm so strongly is that an unmitigated rise in cases does lead inevitably to an unmitigated rise and hospitalizations. And then ICUs and then deaths."
Since Oct. 19, COVID-19 deaths have risen four times, Arwady noted.
"We're up to almost 100 deaths every week among Chicago residents," she said. "Even if this surge was done right now we would not expect our deaths to peak for several weeks."
More Than 1 Chicagoan Being Diagnosed With COVID Every Minute, City's Top Doc Says
Chicago's coronavirus cases are now at a point where more than one resident is being diagnosed with COVID-19 every minute, according to the city's top doctor.
"If we look at our case numbers we are now averaging still nearly 2,000 new cases diagnosed every day in Chicago residents," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Wednesday as she urged people to avoid gathering for the Thanksgiving holiday. "That's six times what we were seeing in September, 10 times what we were seeing in June and we still have more than one Chicago being diagnosed with COVID every minute, assuming that we're testing 24 hours per day."
As of Wednesday, data showed more than 150,000 Chicago residents have been diagnosed with coronavirus since the pandemic began in the spring. Of those cases, 15% remain active, 83% have recovered and 2% have died, Arwady said. She noted, however, that the actual number of infections is estimated to be five to seven times higher when accounting for people who did not get tested or who have shown no symptoms.
"That means our estimate is between 110,000 and 160,000 Chicagoans have active, meaning infectious, COVID right now," Arwady said. "And that means as many as one in 17 Chicagoans still has active COVID right now. That's a tiny bit better than it was last week, where one in 15 Chicagoans had active COVID, but one in 17 Chicagoans is in that range. Between one in 17 and one in 25 is at a point where it is not safe to gather and where we need everybody as we have directed under the stay-at-home advisory to be staying home unless it's for work, school or essential purposes."
Chicago Will Make COVID Vaccine Data Public, Including Possible Side Effects, Top Doctor Says
Chicago's top doctor said the city plans to make vaccine data, including information on potential side effects, available for residents before rolling out doses to the public.
According to Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, the city could have its first doses by the end of the year, with frontline workers in the healthcare industry and first responders among the first to receive them.
"We will be absolutely transparent with you about what we know about these vaccines as soon as we know," Arwady said.
Pfizer and BioNTech have applied for an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for their coronavirus vaccine. According to Arwady, the agency is set to discuss the matter during a meeting on Dec. 10.
"We will be sharing, and this will be made public immediately upon conclusion of that meeting, the data that that team and the external experts will be using to make an emergency use authorization decision," Arwady said. "There will be additional data related to the trial, related to the demographics of who was in this trial, related to side effects and related to efficacy. The FDA will not approve a vaccine that is not safe, first and foremost, where we are seeing signs of serious side effects, and they will not approve a vaccine that is not at least 50% effective."
The vaccine engineered by Pfizer has seen a 90% efficacy rate in clinical trials.
Another vaccine, engineered by Moderna, has a 94% efficacy rate in clinical trials according to the company, and could follow suit in seeking FDA approval in early December.
Following a potential authorization from the FDA, the CDC will then meet, with a recommendation expected by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, an outside group of medical experts. ACIP is expected to call an emergency meeting to make specific recommendations on distribution once the FDA authorizes a vaccine.
"That committee will continue to meet as additional vaccines come or are put forward for possible approval, or if side effects emerge, or are there any other concerns related to vaccines that are already being distributed," Arwady said.
Should the committee recommend the vaccine, Chicago could begin vaccinating as early as mid-December, Arwady said.
Read more here.
Thanksgiving Could Be Coronavirus ‘Super Spreading Event,' Chicago Officials Warn
Chicago's mayor and top doctor warned Wednesday that the Thanksgiving holiday could become a "super spreading event" in the deadly coronavirus pandemic, pleading again with residents to forego gatherings.
"Let me put this as bluntly as I can: We are extremely concerned about Thanksgiving weekend becoming a super spreading event," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a news conference Wednesday morning.
"Despite the ongoing warnings from responsible leaders across the country, about 50 million Americans are still expected to travel this weekend," she continued. "That is why we need to double down on our precautions in order to prevent a continued rise in cases, hospitalizations and unfortunately deaths, all of which we continue to see an uptick in."
"I'm urging you not to engage in your normal Thanksgiving plans, to keep it limited to your immediate household," Lightfoot said, noting that Chicago is projected to see an additional 1,000 coronavirus deaths by the end of the year.
She added that the projected death toll, while a "sobering reminder and figure," doesn't fully illustrate a holiday-related surge's impact on the health care system and its workers, both already strained, or the long-term effects COVID-19 survivors have reported.
"What we are hearing here and around the world is survivors who've been experiencing ongoing challenges ranging from continued trouble breathing, fatigue, migraines, pain and numbness, dizziness, tremors, blurred vision, memory loss and continued loss of smell and taste, and more which scientists and health officials are still working to understand," Lightfoot said. "That is why we are asking every Chicagoan to avoid travel and avoid visiting someone else's home this Thanksgiving holiday and weekend."
"Please only celebrate Thanksgiving with those in your immediate household or remotely over the internet," she continued, adding that she had expected to celebrate with her 92-year-old mother and other family members but made the choice to celebrate apart.
"It is the best way for us to protect each other and celebrate future Thanksgivings together," Lightfoot said. "It is truly a sacrifice for sure but in my mind it's an expression of love."
Lightfoot noted that a stay-at-home advisory remains in place for Chicago, asking that residents stay home unless leaving is necessary, like for grocery shopping or work.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady shared a graph showing a dramatic spike in cases in Canada after the nation's Thanksgiving celebration on Oct. 12.
"After the Canadian Thanksgiving, unfortunately Canada saw a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases and let me tell you the U.S. rates of cases right now are much worse than Canada's was and our potential for a surge is much greater," Arwady said. "So it's not too late to change plans you might have, even for tomorrow. Anything that we can do as a city to limit this risk here is a win for you, your family and Chicago."
Arwady said the latest data indicates that as many one in every 17 Chicagoans has an active and infectious coronavirus case as of Wednesday, saying that figure meant the city "is at a point where it is not safe to gather."
Graphic: Here's How COVID Could Spread During Thanksgiving
For weeks, the Illinois Department of Public Health has echoed Thanksgiving coronavirus guidance heard around the country from health care professionals and public officials: Don't travel and limit gatherings to those you already live with.
With Thanksgiving now upon us, last-minute warnings aim to prevent Thanksgiving from becoming a "super-spreader" holiday that dangerously elevates hospitalizations and the number of coronavirus deaths.
"We don’t have to have 'super spreader' events at homes throughout our state and throughout the country and bring it back," Illinois' Department of Public Health Director, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, said this week. "Please reconsider your plans and be part of the solution to decrease infections, instead of part of the plan to increase them."
To underscore this point, the IDPH produced a graphic, "On the 14th day of COVID," to show the potential spread of the virus.
The graphic lays out a 14-day scenario in which a fictitious person named Joe becomes exposed to coronavirus. On Day 5, Joe feels well and gets a negative COVID-19 test. He is, likely unknowingly, contagious and attends Thanksgiving dinner with 17 family members. He develops symptoms on Day 10 and gets a positive test, and on Days 13 and 14, according to this scenario, 10 of the 17 family members who attended Thanksgiving with Joe develop symptoms and test positive.
COVID Long-Hauler Shares Message to Thanksgiving Travelers
Candice Lepek and her family thought they were being careful during the coronavirus pandemic, but that didn't stop the virus from spreading to them and eventually infecting her - a 34-year-old breast cancer survivor.
Now, weeks after her diagnosis, she's still battling symptoms and has a message for families planning to get together this Thanksgiving.
"I write in all my posts, 'Is it worth it?'" Lepek said.
Lepek was diagnosed with coronavirus nearly one month ago.
"The COVID went into my lungs- pneumonia in both lungs," Lepek said.
Still, even weeks after her diagnosis, Lepek continues to have a fever and a painful cough, among other symptoms.
"When I got it I didn't think it would last like this," she said.
Lepek is considered by medical professionals a "long-hauler," which includes those who experience symptoms for weeks or even months after contracting it, but don't require hospitalization.
She said she plans to celebrate with her family via Zoom and that she hopes her story can possibly change even one mind.
"It spread through my family and we were careful," she said. "It is not a joke."