As some regions in Illinois begin to reports coronavirus data below the state's requirements for mitigations, some are wondering if restrictions might be eased in their regions ahead of the holidays.
According to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the answer is likely no.
"As you know, a couple of weeks ago, out of concern for the idea that we would have a surge here, we basically stepped back from taking regions out of Tier 3, in hopes that we could bring the numbers down significantly across state," Pritzker said Thursday. "They're coming down, not by enormous numbers, but they're going the right direction. And we're very hopeful that things will continue in the right direction. But as Dr. Ezike said, you know, when you're still talking about 8,000-plus cases, for example, in a day, that means, as you were mentioning earlier, that as you project forward, that quite a number of people will still pass away as a percentage of that. And so just deeply concerned that we bring the numbers down to a level where, you know, we're we're seeing a much better numbers, even our positivity rates, although they've come down, still are not near the WHO recommended 5%."
The death toll of the coronavirus pandemic in Illinois surpassed the grim milestone of more than 15,000 lives lost on Friday as the state reported an additional 181 deaths and 7,377 new confirmed and probable cases.
According to the latest data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, Friday's figures bring the total number cases of the virus to 886,805 and the number of deaths to 15,015 statewide.
The rolling seven-day positivity rate on all tests conducted during that span is currently at 8.0%, a decrease from the day before, while the positivity rate for residents tested for the virus is at 9.7%, officials say.
Hospitalizations related to the virus declined again to 4,690, with 1,023 of those patients occupying ICU beds and 589 on ventilators, according to health officials.
Pritzker said Friday that while the numbers "seem to be heading in the right direction," state officials are "concerned the numbers have not come down as precipitously as we would have liked to have seen by now."
He has noted that potential holiday gatherings remain a concern across the state.
"They should know that we're following the science. As I said, when I talked about this a couple weeks ago, not just Dr. Fauci, but the whole, you know, raft of doctors that we rely upon for their good advice as we move forward with this novel coronavirus are saying that we need to be deeply concerned about the gatherings that people may have around the holidays," Pritzker said. "And so that's that's why we made the decisions that we did."
Pritzker acknowledged that such restrictions could be lifted after the holidays, however, if the area doesn't see a surge and regions remain below the threshold.
"It's certainly our intention as we get through these holidays to begin to look at, you know, without having holidays ahead, right after the New Year to get to reducing the tiers for various of our regions," he said.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, in order for a region to move back to Tier 2 mitigations, a region must experience less than 12 percent test positivity rate for three consecutive days along with greater than 20 percent available intensive care unit and hospital bed availability and declining COVID hospitalizations in seven out of the last 10 days.
Many have expressed optimism with the start of vaccinations for coronavirus in Illinois, including Pritzker, who said earlier this week that vaccinations mark "the beginning of a process that allows us to move toward reopening the state entirely."
But how long that process will take remains unclear.
"The length of time, you know, as you talk to the experts what they would say is the manufacturing process will take some time so they can deliver them as fast as they can," Pritzker said. "But months will go by here while we are working through the ACIP/CDC guidelines first for health care workers and those in longterm care facilities and then the many others that are in the various phases... until we get herd immunity. That's what we're all aiming for for the state of Illinois and the United States of America."
The first coronavirus vaccinations were administered in Illinois Tuesday, first in Chicago, then at a hospital in Peoria.
Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike were present to observe the vaccinations in Peoria, calling it a "very important day."
"Everyone has reason to be excited that we are at the beginning of the end," Ezike said.
She noted, however, that the first vaccines are only the start.
"It's very important that everyone understands you do need both vaccines," she said, referring to the booster dose people will need to get in the weeks after their first shot.
The Pfizer vaccine requires two shots given three weeks apart.
"It's an important step but there's still another step," she added. "I hope that all the people who are watching this have confidence that this is a vaccine that you should take as well."
In Chicago, the first doses were given to health care workers at Loretto Hospital just minutes earlier.
Dubbing the day "Vaccine Day," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said "we have finally and at long last officially taken our first steps in our long road toward COVID vaccination."
Chicago's top health official said the first vaccinations marked "the beginning of what will be the end of COVID-19" in the city, but cautioned the public that it will still be quite some time before the pandemic is over.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said she believes it would probably be about another year before the coronavirus is "in the rearview mirror."
"We've already been at this for nearly a year and I think we're going to be at it for probably another year by the time we really get to the point where this is in the rearview mirror," she said. "But it is within our power to keep this virus in control. You know the things that work - please continue to do them."