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Coronavirus trends in Illinois not looking good: ‘My concern is growing each day,’ says public health director

Wednesday, August 12, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Jamie Munks

With coronavirus trends in most of Illinois moving in the wrong direction, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday again warned that the state might reimpose stricter measures to slow the spread of the highly contagious disease.

Pritzker repeated a plea for local officials to “impose greater mitigations on a targeted basis to bring down the number of infections or the positivity rate.”

“Otherwise, it will only be a matter of time before the state will be forced to step in and roll things back on a regional basis, something none of us wants,” Pritzker said.

While offering up that sober warning, Pritzker also announced the release of $46 million in grants to small businesses across the state whose operations have been severely impeded by state shutdown rules aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

The grant awards came less than a week after Pritzker announced an emergency rule that has received mixed reviews from the business community to allow businesses to be fined if they don’t enforce the state’s face-covering mandate.

Pritzker said the majority of the 11 regions set up to track the presence and potential spread of COVID-19 are trending in negative directions.

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Wednesday announced 1,645 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 16 additional deaths, raising the statewide totals to 198,593 known cases and 7,672 deaths throughout the pandemic so far.

The seven-day statewide average positivity rate stood at 4.1% as of Tuesday. The rate was 3% a month earlier.

“My concern is growing each day about the direction our numbers are going,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said at a news conference with Pritzker in Chicago on Wednesday.

“And I’m not concerned about numbers just for numbers’ sake. Remember that the numbers increasing actually represents people infected with this new virus. And those people infected with the new virus can go on to get sick, and those people who are sick can go on to be hospitalized, and those people who are hospitalized can go on to have very severe complications, including, and up to, death,” she said.

Five regions, including some north and south suburban areas, parts of central Illinois and Metro East, have seen an increase in their seven-day average positivity rates. Another four regions, including Chicago, suburban Cook County, the northwest part of the state and southern Illinois are holding flat with the same seven-day average positivity rate as a week ago, Pritzker said.

The two regions that saw a slight drop in recent days encompass the western suburbs, including DuPage County, and east-central Illinois.

The grants unveiled Wednesday were awarded to 2,655 small businesses, everything from taco shops to CrossFit gyms, day spas to pest control providers that have seen their operations interrupted during the coronavirus pandemic.

The grants, which range from $10,000 to $20,000, mark the first round of funding from the state-administered Business Interruption Grant program, funded with Illinois’ share of money from the federal CARES Act.

Recipients are able to use the grants for payroll costs, rent, utilities, equipment and other pandemic-related needs, such as personal protective equipment, training and new technology. The first round of funding is aimed at businesses that were forced to close fully during the spring, when Pritzker issued a statewide stay-at-home order, a sweeping measure aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Small businesses that continue to suffer economic hardship due to the pandemic and areas that have experienced property damage and closures as a result of civil unrest over the past few months are also included. Businesses that did not receive aid through the federal Paycheck Protection Program were given priority in the first round of grants, and the state capped the annual revenues of first-round grant recipients at $3 million, Pritzker said.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan rule-making panel upheld Pritzker’s emergency rule, which has seen pushback from some business groups over concerns the state is leaning on businesses to enforce its mask policy rather than enforcing the rule for individuals who refuse to wear masks.

Pritzker, asked Wednesday about models from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia-based research center PolicyLab that were cited in a Daily Beast story and pinpointed Chicago, Boston and Baltimore as the next cities to be hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, sought to bolster the argument for his emergency mask rule.

Pritzker called it a “make or break moment” for Illinois and for Chicago.

“We’re all working hard to get this done,” he said. “It’s why the rule that we got passed yesterday was so important. It’s one more step in a series of steps along a path to make sure that we don’t become a hot spot.”

jmunks@chicagotribune.com



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