After weeks of heightened coronavirus restrictions, Illinois' Region 4 can finally return to phase four guidelines alongside the majority of the state.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced the area, also known as the Metro East region, could return to phase four beginning at 5 p.m. Friday.
The region - which includes Bond, Clinton, Madison, Monroe, Randolph, St. Clair and Washington counties - had been under increased restrictions since Aug. 18, when the area had three consecutive days of rolling positivity rates at or above 8%. On Sept. 2, even more restrictions were put in place as the positivity rate climbed.
As of Friday, the area had a positivity rate of 5.8%.
“We are excited to see that after weeks of mitigation measures and sacrifice, Region 4 has reduced its positivity rate and can return to Phase 4,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “It takes communities working together to reduce the spread of the virus and lower the positivity rate. I want to thank Region 4 for its hard work to decrease the risk for all of Illinois.”
Pritzker had hinted earlier this week that the restrictions may soon be lifted as positivity rates continued to decline in the area.
"After falling from a peak seven-day average positivity of over 10%, Metro East then leveled off between an average of 7% and 8% positivity for several weeks, and has recently dropped to a new low of 6.3%," Pritzker said Wednesday. "As of this morning, that's enormous progress. And if the region sustains an average below the 6.5% threshold, Region 4 could see a return to the looser mitigations enacted in most of the state as soon as Friday."
Currently, only one other Illinois region is under heightened mitigations. Region 1, which holds Rockford, Dixon and Galena, saw increased restrictions begin on Saturday.
Still, after "promising declines" were reported in nearly all of Illinois' healthcare regions last week, Pritzker said Wednesday that "progress has cooled" across much of the state.
"We are seeing changes in positivity averages around the state level off, with three regions that were decreasing last week now sitting at a stable level," he said during an update Wednesday, which was delivered virtually as the governor continues to isolate following a staffer's positive test last week.
Pritzker said Region 5 and Region 9, which is home to Lake and McHenry counties near the Wisconsin border, have flipped from decreasing positivity rates to increasing.
Region 3, which contains Springfield and Quincy, was the only area to switch from increasing to decreasing, Pritzker said.
Illinois health officials on Thursday reported 3,059 new coronavirus cases and 32 additional deaths over the last 24 hours, marking the highest one-day case total since mid-May.
According to the latest data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, Thursday's figures bring the state’s total to 310,700 cases and 8,910 deaths since the pandemic began. Wednesday's 42 deaths marked the deadliest day in the state since June 24.
Illinois health officials said 72,491 new tests were returned to state laboratories over the last 24 hours, just shy of a single-day record. Those tests increase the state’s rolling seven-day positivity rate to 3.7%, up from 3.5% a day earlier.
Hospitalizations in the state also ticked up slightly Thursday, with 1,755 patients currently hospitalized statewide. Of those patients, 392 were in intensive care units, and 163 were on ventilators.