Further positivity rate decrease needed before mitigations rolled back in problem areas, Pritzker says
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike emphasizes the importance of face coverings at a news conference in Chicago Thursday. (Credit: Blueroomstream.com)
Announces new federal funding for COVID-19 employment program
By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Will and Kankakee Counties must lower their rolling COVID-19 test positivity rate by about one more percentage point before restrictions on economic activity can be lifted, Gov. JB Pritzker announced Thursday at a COVID-19 update in Chicago.
Those counties, which make up Region 7 of the state’s reopening plan, had a 7.5 percent seven-day average positivity rate as of Monday, but it will need to decrease to 6.5 percent before coronavirus mitigations such as closures of indoor dining and drinking at restaurants and bars can be lifted.
Region 4 of the reopening plan, however, continues to see its positivity rate increase, moving to 10.1 percent as of Monday. The only other region above 7 percent is north-central Illinois, which includes Peoria and several surrounding counties, which sat at 7.2 percent as of Monday.
“Last week I highlighted the trend over the previous two weeks that nine of our 11 regions had seen increases in positivity rates,” Pritzker said Thursday. “I'm pleased to say that over the last seven days, most of our regions have seen a slight decrease in their positivity rates, with only three seeing a statistically significant increase.”
Statewide, the positivity rate was 3.8 percent as of Thursday.
Pritzker cited Dr. Anthony Fauci, an immunologist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in justifying the 8-percent threshold as one needed to spur further state action in a given region.
“You can either close the bars or close the schools,” Pritzker said, referring to Fauci’s previous comments about rate of increase.
Pritzker said economic restoration cannot happen until the virus is under control.
“Unless we get it under control, either by people following the doctor's recommended mitigations or with an effective treatment or a vaccine, we will be fighting to save the Titanic with a plastic bucket,” he said. “Because there's no national strategy, it's up to us – every individual and every city and every business in Illinois – to slow the rate of infection across the state, wear a mask. Watch your distance, don't exceed capacity limits.”
The expansion of testing through a University of Illinois saliva-based testing program to other university campuses could take another 6-8 weeks, but will depend on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and manufacturing of equipment, Pritzker added.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike once again noted the importance of the widespread use of face coverings.
“There is much we still need to learn about this virus,” she said. “We're still learning if a person can be reinfected, and if so, after what timeframe. We're still learning how much viral load is present before someone starts showing symptoms. We're still learning what medicines can be most effective to treat this virus.”
What is known, Ezike said, is that a person with the virus can spread it even if they are not experiencing symptoms. Masks can help prevent the spread of respiratory droplets that a person expels when talking, she said.
“Models do suggest that public mask-wearing is most effective at stopping spread of the virus when compliance is high,” Ezike said. “That means the vast majority of people need to be wearing the face covering.”
Illinoisans should also get their flu shot in the coming days as well, officials noted.
IDPH announced 29 additional virus-related deaths over the previous 24 hours in people whose ages ranged from their 40s to their 90s. There were 1,953 new confirmed cases of the virus among 48,982 test results reported.
That brought the total confirmed cases since the pandemic reached Illinois to 255,643 cases, including 8,242 deaths among more than 4.5 million recorded test results.
At the end of Wednesday, the total number of persons hospitalized for the virus in the state grew to 1,609, including 346 in intensive care unit beds and 141 on ventilators. All numbers remained slightly above their pandemic lows and well off their highs.
Earlier in the day, Pritzker also announced the release of $16.6 million in federal funding to expand job opportunities for Illinoisans out of work due to COVID-19.
The announcement came as both new unemployment claims and continued claims decreased in the state from a week prior, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
IDES reported there were 25,478 new unemployment claims for the week ending Sept. 5, which was a decrease of 716 from the week prior. The number of continued claims dropped by 6,215, according to IDES, to 552,436 for the week. Despite the decrease, the new claims are still more than three times the 7,180 recorded over the same time period last year.
The decrease came as the number of new claims remained level at 884,000 nationally and the number of ongoing claims increased by 93,000 to 13.39 million, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Pritzker was in Rockford Thursday to announce two new grants through the U.S. Department of Labor that will aim to “place, train and hire nearly 1,300 residents for an array of jobs related to the ongoing pandemic response.”
The funding includes two separate grants each worth $8.3 million, one from the federal Disaster Recovery Grant Program and one from the Employment Recovery Grant program, both of which are part of the National Dislocated Worker Program.
The jobs funded through the programs include temporary recovery-related jobs such as contact tracers, COVID-19 protocol workers, building sanitization workers, temperature screeners and food preparation and distribution workers, according to the governor’s office.
Funding will be distributed to 12 Local Workforce Innovation Areas across Illinois representing employers, local government, community colleges and community-based organizations which partner with state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
Training and hiring for new workforce programs are expected to begin this fall, and local agencies will prioritize applicants who have lost work during the COVID-19 crisis.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.