Note: Any news conferences from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot or other officials will be streamed in the video player above.
All of Illinois will enter Tier 3 coronavirus mitigations under the state's plan as hospitalizations and cases continue to rise, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Chicago Public Schools announced the district plans to return to in-person learning beginning in January.
Here are the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic across the state of Illinois today (Nov. 18):
Where We've Found More Than 255K COVID-19 Cases at Colleges, Just as Students Return Home
With coronavirus cases on the rise across the country, there is a question on the minds of parents and officials alike: as students leave their college communities and travel to their homes all around the country for the holidays -- will coronavirus cases spread along with them?
NBC5 and Telemundo Chicago have been tracking campus coronavirus cases ever since students began the fall semester. We found a surprising number of cases -- which spiked at the beginning of the fall, then subsided, but recently have begun to spike again.
For example, we discovered that a total of more than 174,000 students and staff were diagnosed with coronavirus at the 300 in-state and out-of-state schools most-attended by Illinois students. Many of those cases occurred in early September, as the semester began. But a significant proportion -- more than 25,000 cases -- have just been diagnosed over the past week to 14 days.
'Call Out the Untruths': Illinois' Top Doctor Shares Message to Those Who Think COVID-19 is Like Flu
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike shared a message to those who believe the coronavirus is no worse than the flu or is "just another cold."
"The bottom line is that it's real and it is worse than a typical cold," she said during Wednesday's coronavirus update. "This 'not real' virus is overwhelming our hospitals. Right now, it's taking up one out of every four hospital beds that's occupied in the hospitals across our state. This 'just another cold' is putting hundreds of people in the ICU and on ventilators."
According to Ezike, estimations show the flu causes anywhere from the 12,000 to 61,000 U.S. deaths annually. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports during the 2019-2020 influenza season, CDC estimates showed influenza was associated with 38 million illnesses, 18 million medical visits, 405,000 hospitalizations, and 22,000 deaths.
"This year alone we have more than 246,000 deaths attributable to COVID-19," Ezike said Wednesday. "We have to call out the untruths. We have to speak truth. COVID-19 is very real and it has been very deadly for so many."
Ezike added she also hears people say "it's only older people or those with health conditions" who die from coronavirus.
Of the 140 deaths reported in Illinois Wednesday, two were in their 30s, three were in their 40s and nine were in their 50s, according to IDPH data.
"The populations at greater risk are our elderly, but I believe that the death of a 90-year-old or a 50-year-old or a 20-year-old all matter," Ezike said.
The state's top public health official warned that while people can believe what they want, their actions also affect others.
"If people want to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that this virus doesn't exist or it's not that bad, I guess they're free to do so. What you should not be able to do is risk the health of other individuals and everyone that you come into contact with because you won't wear a mask or because you won't stop hosting or going to events or gatherings or because you won't socially distance," Ezike said. "You don't have the right to expose another person to a potentially deadly virus. So even if you can't see how real this virus truly is, can we at least agree to be respectful of others and wear a mask and keep our distance?"
Pritzker: Coronavirus is Illinois' 3rd-Leading Cause of Death in 2020
With coronavirus-related deaths on the rise in Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker says that the virus is the third-leading cause of death in the state this year, and that the state has seen its average number of daily coronavirus fatalities rise by 590% in the last three months.
According to the governor, the 11,014 fatalities attributed to the virus make it the third-leading cause of death in the state, trailing heart disease and cancer.
According to IDPH data, the virus caused more fatalities between March and October than strokes and accidents, the fourth and fifth-leading causes of death in the state, combined.
“The virus is back with a vengeance,” Pritzker said during a Wednesday press conference. “There is a significant increase in the number of people losing their lives to COVID-19 amidst this current surge. In August, we were losing, on average, 14 people per day to this disease. Today, that number is up to 83.”
On Wednesday alone, 140 fatalities were attributed to the virus, one of the highest single-day totals the state has recorded in the last month. The state has recorded more than 100 coronavirus-related fatalities three times in the last seven days after not doing so since June 4.
Even with new mitigations going into effect soon, Pritzker says that the number of fatalities will likely continue to rise in the short-term and could go even higher than what the state saw during the virus’ peak during the spring if those mitigation efforts aren’t successful.
“Models project that without additional mitigations, daily COVID-19 deaths may at least match the previous spring wave and could even rise up to four-to-five times that level – a risk that grows as hospitals become increasingly filled by more patients, and as more of our heroic healthcare workers get sick, leading to staffing shortages,” he said.
Pritzker says that without new interventions, the state could see between 17,000 and 45,000 more fatalities before March 1, 2021, according to models cited by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
How You Can Get an At-Home Coronavirus Test and What You Should Do When You Get One
At-home testing is now available for those who wish to take a coronavirus test from inside their homes, Chicago's top public health official said Wednesday.
"At-home testing options continue to grow and expand," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. "These are now FDA approved home testing possibilities."
"Particularly if you have insurance you are now able to get these at home tests," Arwady said. "This is a good way for you to get testing in your home quickly."
According to the city's website, the self-collected, at-home tests have been authorized by the FDA.
"Usually, you fill out a screening questionnaire and – if you are eligible – you will receive a kit with instructions on how to collect and return your sample," the website reads. "Some tests also include a telehealth consultation and results are usually available 1-3 days later. Some options are available for free, regardless of your insurance or documentation status."
Lincoln Park Remains Open for ZooLights Amid Chicago Coronavirus Surge
Lincoln Park Zoo announced the facility will remain open for ZooLights this holiday season despite a surge of coronavirus metrics throughout Chicago.
The zoo said safety remains a top priority but plans to stay open and continue to host their annual ZooLights since the venue is outdoors.
"Safety measures such as limited capacity, facial covering requirements, and social distancing are in place, and Lincoln Park Zoo is confident that these measures protect staff, guests and the animals in the zoo’s care," the zoo said in a statement. "The zoo will continue to keep a close eye on City and State guidelines and respond appropriately."
According to a release, Lincoln Park Zoo will close from Jan. 4, 2021 to March 4, 2021 as city guidelines do not allow the facility to open indoor buildings, which would be necessary during the colder months.
Additionally, the zoo said many animals remain indoors during the winter, which provide visitors with a subpar experience.
In its 26th annual event, ZooLights will open to Chicago on Nov. 20 for $5 a person. The event will run nearly every day starting at 4 p.m until Jan. 3, 2021.
The following five days will be free of charge for Lincoln Park ZooLights: Nov. 24, De. 9, Dec. 17, Dec. 21 and Dec. 29.
"ZooLights will feature hundreds of luminous displays and incredible seasonal activities, all under the glow of millions of illuminated lights, plus reduced capacity admission to keep your family safe," the zoo's website reads.
All holiday events will have limited reservations or tickets available, the zoo said. Tickets are available at lpz.eventbrite.com.
Lincoln Park Zoo noted that Chicago can continue to connect with nature through social media channels, virtual events and education programming.
Mayor Lightfoot Defends Decision to Bring CPS Students Back to Classrooms
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended the decision to bring Chicago Public Schools students back to classrooms beginning next year even as coronavirus cases continue to spike, prompting new mitigations across the state.
"We're obviously doing everything we can to keep every resident safe and of course, that includes our young people," Lightfoot said. "And we have taken a significant amount of steps over these last few months to make sure that the protections on a classroom-by-classroom basis are there so that when it's appropriate for students to return, that they're going to be returning to classrooms and to school buildings that have the highest level of protections against COVID-19 that we can possibly muster."
Chicago Public Schools on Tuesday announced the district plans to begin bringing students back for in-person learning starting in January.
At the same time, New York City schools, the nation's largest system, will switch all-remote Thursday after hitting his 3 percent rolling positivity rate threshold.
Lightfoot said the decision "is truly a matter of equity."
"We know that remote work works well for some, where there is an adult in the home that can help the student with the basic logging on answering any questions helps support the classroom learning, but also the homework that has to be done," she said. "Unfortunately, that is not the experience of some of our children. And for some of our children, particularly our youngest learners, and also our kids with special needs, school is more than just the place where they go and learn reading and writing and arithmetic. School is a place where they get social emotional learning where they bond with their peers, and their teachers where they get other supports, like an a, an IEP, an aid that helps them with their learning where they get health care in the school system. So for those students, you cannot replicate those kinds of crucial in person support by looking at a zoom screen, it's just not going to happen. And so we need to make sure that consistent with the public health mandates that we are building a pathway for those kids to get back into the classroom. And obviously, obviously, there's been a lot of conversation with everybody in the school environment, teachers building principals, staff, that goes into this decision. But fundamentally, we cannot afford to have those students fall behind."
Lightfoot said parents will have the option to opt out of in-person instruction.
Officials said students will learn remotely through the end of 2020 but pre-k and students in intensive and "moderate cluster classrooms" will begin in-person instruction starting on Jan. 11. Students in grades K-8 will resume in-person learning on Feb. 1.
The district cited "low incidence of school-based transmission at schools across the country, including private and parochial schools in Chicago."
High school students will continue to participate in remote learning and the district will evaluate in-person learning options for those students in 2021, officials said.
"We're going to start obviously, gradually, in the way that CPS announced [Tuesday], and we'll look at high school students in the New Year," Lightfoot said.
Illinois Reports 8,922 New Coronavirus Cases, Lifting Statewide Total to Over 600K, and 140 Deaths
Illinois health officials reported 8,922 new confirmed and probable coronavirus cases on Wednesday, lifting the statewide total to more than 600,000 cases since the pandemic began, and 140 additional deaths.
Wednesday's data from the Illinois Department of Public Health marked the first time the number of new cases in the state fell below 10,000 in 13 days. The newly reported figures brought the total number of cases in the state to 606,771 since the pandemic began and lifted the death toll to 11,014, IDPH said.
A total of 103,569 new tests were performed over the last 24 hours, according to state health officials. In all, 9,359,227 tests have been performed during the pandemic.
The state’s rolling seven-day average positivity rate dropped to 11.9, falling below 12% for the first time in more than a week.
The positivity rate was 12.5% on Tuesday and Monday, which was down from 12.8% on Sunday. The rate was 12.6% on Saturday, 13.2% on Friday, 12.6% on Thursday, 12.4% on Nov. 11 and 12% on Nov. 10. It was 11.4% the previous day and 10.6% on Nov. 8.
The state saw its hospitalization numbers increase again Wednesday, with 5,953 residents currently in hospitals due to coronavirus-like illnesses, an increase of more than 100 patients in the last 24 hours. Of those patients, 1,146 are currently in intensive care units, and 547 are on ventilators.
Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry to Close Under Tier 3 Coronavirus Restrictions
Two of Chicago's most iconic cultural institutions are set to close under Illinois' new Tier 3 coronavirus mitigations.
The Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry will both temporarily close to the public this week after Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Tuesday that the state will be under heightened restrictions requiring indoor museums and attractions to close in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The Museum of Science and Industry will close beginning Thursday, the institution said in a statement posted on social media.
"We were so excited to share the holidays with you, however we must do our part to ensure the spread of this disease does not get worse," the statement reads.
"We will be working hard from home to bring you engaging science content through our website and social channels, and we have several free resources for you to explore," the statement continued, highlighting free educational tools, activities and resources on the museum's website.
MSI said anyone with tickets to the museum during the closure will be refunded automatically. It was not immediately clear when the museum planned to reopen.
The Field Museum will be closed Friday through at least Dec. 4.
“Our first priority is always the safety of our visitors and staff, and as a scientific institution, we are closely heeding the advice of medical and public health experts,” the museum's President Julian Siggers said in a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times.
The Shedd Aquarium also announced plans to close for the remainder of the year as coronavirus mitigations continue to heighten across Chicago and the state.
"As city and statewide COVID mitigation efforts continue, Shedd Aquarium has decided to voluntarily close through the new year as part of a commitment to the health and safety of the community," a spokesperson for the aquarium said in a statement.
The aquarium aims to reopen by Jan. 2, officials said.
Watch Live: Chicago's Mayor, Top Doc to Update on Coronavirus Testing in the City
Chicago's mayor and top health official plan to deliver an update Wednesday on the city's testing efforts as numbers continue to spike, sparking new restrictions across Illinois and a stay-at-home advisory within city limits.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady are expected to address testing measures in a press conference at 1:15 p.m. in City Hall.
Watch live in the player above or click here.
Illinois' Top Health Official on Vaccines, Where Coronavirus Spreads Most, Hospitals and More
Illinois' top health official says the state has been preparing a plan to vaccinate residents once a coronavirus vaccine is available but gave an impassioned plea once more to hold holiday celebrations virtually and to wear masks as she says health care workers are sounding the alarm and that the state is heading in the "wrong direction" with the pandemic.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike sat down for an interview with NBC 5's Zoraida Sambolin to discuss the ongoing pandemic, including recent news on vaccines, the effectiveness of contact tracing, the strain on the health care system, where the virus is spreading most and how the state is trying to get the pandemic under control.
Read more here.
Pritzker Warns of Another Stay-at-Home Order if Tier 3 Mitigations Don't Work
Illinois' Tier 3 mitigations aren't another stay-at-home order, but the state's governor warned that if they don't work, another order would be next.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced added restrictions across the state are set to begin this week as coronavirus growth is now exponential in every region of the state, statewide positivity rate is at record highs and hospitalizations have surpassed the spring peak.
"If these numbers don't start to curb, if they don't start to bend this curve, then it is clear that we're going to have to take more difficult measures and go to a stay-at-home order," Pritzker said in announcing the new statewide restrictions.
Beginning Friday, new guidelines will be in place for retailers, gyms, hotels, restaurants, bars and more, according to state officials.
It's a move Pritzker said he hopes will "avoid another stay-at-home order."
"I’m hopeful that by limiting our in-person interactions now, we will succeed at avoiding a stay at home order like what we had in the spring," he said.
The state's top doctor said the stay-at-home order is the "final trigger."
"These are all impossible decisions. We stepped back from a full stay-at-home order," Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. "That's the final trigger, obviously. But if everyone cooperates with us on this pause, we don't have to go to the full extreme. And so I hope everybody sees how much we're trying to give some people something while trying to make sure that we protect the health and safety of the people of Illinois."