Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned Tuesday that if Illinois’ COVID metrics don’t decline, “significantly greater mitigations” could be imposed in the state.
“We’re consistently looking at the menu of options that we may need to impose in order to bring down the numbers,” Pritzker said during a press conference. “I will remind you that if we are not able to bring these numbers down, if hospitals continue to fill, if the hospital beds and ICUs get full like they are in Kentucky -that’s just next door to Illinois – if that happens, we’re going to have to impose significantly greater mitigations.”
As of Tuesday, 37 Illinois counties and Chicago were at a “warning level” for intensive care unit bed availability, according to data from the state health department.
For a county to reach “warning level,” it must have below 20% ICU bed capacity, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported.
All counties in Illinois, except one, are also seeing “high” community transmission of COVID-19, placing the most of the state in the category in which everyone over the age of 2 should resume wearing a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status, health officials say.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance late last month to recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks in indoor settings again in areas of the U.S. that are seeing “substantial” or “high” transmission of COVID-19.
Illinois health officials on Friday reported 24,682 new COVID-19 cases in the past week, along with 126 additional deaths and nearly 235,000 new vaccine doses administered – increases in all metrics as the state continues to see a surge fueled by the delta variant.
As of midnight Thursday, 2,000 patients were hospitalized due to COVID in the state – up roughly 21% from the week before. Of those patients, 468 were in ICU beds, and 234 were on ventilators. All metrics are a reported increase from numbers seen the week prior.
Pritzker said heightened mitigations could include this like “phases,” which brought restrictions on both a regional and statewide level earlier in the pandemic, though he did not offer many specifics.
“Those are things that we don’t want to go back to,” he said, “Those are, you know, phases, situations, things on the menu that I think we don’t want to go to but right now.”
Pritzker noted that increased mitigations have already been implemented across the state, including an indoor mask mandate in schools, a vaccine mandate for state employees in congregate settings, a vaccine requirement for nursing home personnel and a mask mandate in all state buildings.
Meanwhile, both Chicago and suburban Cook County have independently issued indoor mask mandates, requiring anyone over the age of 2 to wear masks in indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status.
Last week, the governor declined to give a specific metric at which the state might impose a similar indoor masking mandate, leaving the door open for further mitigations but deferring to local authorities to take action, even as he called the current COVID-19 surge fueled by the delta variant a “very dangerous moment.”
Earlier this month, Pritzker unveiled a new mask mandate specifically for schools, requiring – rather than recommending – that all students, teachers and staff in K-12 schools wear masks while indoors, effective immediately.
The Illinois State Board of Education later placed several schools and districts across the state on probation or changed their status with the state to “nonrecognized” for not adhering to the mandate.
When asked about that action at an unrelated news conference Friday, Pritzker said schools not following the requirement are endangering students and their communities at “a very dangerous moment.”
“What I can tell you is that those schools that are not following the mask requirements for their children are, of course, endangering their children, they’re also endangering the people who work in the school, the parents and grandparents who pick up and drop off their children at school,” Pritzker said.
“We are living in a very dangerous moment of coronavirus, an upswing of the delta variant across the nation and here in Illinois,” he continued. “I am deeply concerned especially that the delta variant is having an increasingly serious medical impact on younger people, not just young children who attend school, but older kids in high school and the young teachers who come to work at schools every day and so we’re trying simply to ask people to make sure that people are following a mitigation that we know works.”