Illinois health officials reported more than 1,500 new cases of coronavirus on Friday and 19 additional deaths attributed to the virus as state health officials remain concerned about a growing number of cases.
According to Illinois' health department, the 1,532 new cases bring the state's total number of coronavirus cases since the pandemic began to 168,457.
The number is among the highest reported so far this month, but is a drop from the 1,624 new cases reported Thursday.
The additional deaths Friday give the state a total of 7,385 fatalities related to the virus.
Illinois reported 44,330 new tests within the most recent 24-hour span, crossing 40,000 for the first time this week, but falling short of a state record.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the rolling 7-day positivity rate held at 3.4% for the second day in a row.
Hospitalization data shows the state remains near its low watermarks for hospitalizations and ventilator usage since such data became publicly available in April. As of Friday, 1,471 patients were hospitalized in Illinois due to coronavirus, with 325 of those patients in intensive care units.
A total of 115 patients are currently on ventilators due to coronavirus.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday state numbers are 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."
Both he and the state's top public health official said increased testing isn't necessarily behind the rise in virus transmission.
"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."
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."
Pritzker noted that while the state is in fact testing a record number of residents, "more testing does not cause rising positivity rates," a statement that was later echoed by the state's top public health official.
"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."