Illinois' top health official said Wednesday the state's rising number of infections isn't due to a record amount of testing being conducted statewide.
"We have seen an increase in cases and I know some people say, 'Oh, it's just because there's more testing' - there's a way to look at that actually," Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. "If you do more testing, your positivity should actually go down the more testing you do. So for it to even stay about flat suggests that there's increased transmission. So yes, we're seeing increased transmission."
Her comments were echoed by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker who said that while the state is in fact testing a record number of residents, "more testing does not cause rising positivity rates."
"If it sounds like I’m taking this extremely seriously, it’s because I am. And you should too," Pritzker said. "It’s imperative that we hold onto the success we’ve had against this virus."
Ezike said some increase was predicted as the state continued through its reopening plan, increasing capacity at certain businesses and loosening several restrictions.
"Of course, we can imagine that there's more opportunity for the virus to be spread," she said. "And in fact, that has been the case. And so we know we needed to have the opening and the increased ability to do more things. We needed that to be coupled with like, 100% masking and distancing."
Both she and Pritzker stressed the importance of wearing a mask, saying "we need everybody to be on the same page for this."
"There's no doubt about it," Pritzker said. "We need increasing masking, not decreasing, and we're never going to get to 100%, but that's our goal."
Illinois health officials reported nearly 1,600 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday and 23 additional deaths - numbers the state's governor called "very concerning."
According to officials, the 1,598 new cases Wednesday mark the highest daily rise for the month of July so far and bring the state’s total number of coronavirus cases to 165,301 since the pandemic began.
The additional deaths give the state a total of 7,347 fatalities related to the virus.
Illinois reported 39,633 tests within the most recent 24-hour span, an increase of roughly 10,000 tests from the previous day. Last week, the state set three daily testing records near the 40,000 mark.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the rolling 7-day positivity rate increased slightly to 3.2 percent.
According to hospitalization data, the state remains near its low watermarks for hospitalizations and ventilator usage since such data became publicly available in April. As of Wednesday, 1,456 patients are currently hospitalized in Illinois due to coronavirus, with 337 of those patients in intensive care units.
A total of 132 patients are currently on ventilators due to coronavirus.
Pritzker said state numbers are now gradually rising following significant progress made across the state.
"If there had been one national strategy employed by our federal government — like a national mask mandate — perhaps things would be different. But that hasn’t happened, and we can’t rely on that possibility," Pritzker said. "In the meantime, Illinois has set policies for itself, and we’ve seen real progress over these last four and a half months. But our numbers now appear to be gradually rising, and that’s very concerning. Today, we are reporting nearly 1,600 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, our highest in July. I will remind everyone that we look at these numbers via 7-day rolling averages and not one day totals, but a rise is still a rise and it is on all of us to bring these numbers down."
At least one region in the state, the Metro East region, is "dangerously close" to receiving "additional mitigations" due to a high positivity rate, with Pritzker saying he "sounded the alarm."
Outside of that, the state's remaining 10 regions remain below a 5% positivity rate.
"There are those who mistakenly think 'No problem! You can’t eradicate the virus — and our numbers are so low, we don’t need to do anything about it,'" Pritzker said. "To them I would say that in every one of the states like Arizona and Florida that are in full crisis mode now, it started with a gradual rise in the numbers. The best doctors in our state, who are some of the best in the nation, tell me that a gradually rising positivity rate is exactly when the exponential factors can take over. You can go from 3% positivity to Arizona’s 23% positivity in the blink of an eye. We’ve been there. Let’s not let that happen again."