By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – State officials announced Friday that they are lifting the enhanced restrictions that have been in place for more than a month in the Metro East region after the area’s COVID-19 test positivity rate fell below 6 percent.
The region was scheduled to return to Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan effective 5 p.m. Friday, the same day statewide hospitalizations for COVID-19 rose above 1,800 for the first time since June 18.
The seven-county area, known as Region 4 in the state’s reopening plan, includes the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis. It had been under enhanced mitigation measures Aug. 18 after the area’s seven-day rolling average test positivity rate rose above 8 percent for three consecutive days – a benchmark public health officials say is an indicator of a widening spread of the disease. Added mitigations, including a ban on indoor dining and drinking at bars and restaurants, took effect Sept. 2.
Under the state’s public health guidelines, those restrictions are lifted only after the region’s average positivity rate falls below 6.5 percent for three consecutive days. Region 4’s positivity rate peaked at 10.5 percent on Aug. 27 but has been steadily declining since then and fell to 5.8 percent on Friday, triggering the lifting of those restrictions.
Gov. JB Pritzker credited the state’s aggressive testing program for helping public officials monitor the spread of the disease.
“All of this takes place in a landscape where Illinois is continuously increasing our ability to test for and monitor this virus: we are now pushing an average of nearly 60,000 tests a day – and we surpassed 6 million tests to date,” he said in a statement. “There is testing available to you if you need it. If you were potentially in contact with a COVID-19 case, if you’re feeling unwell, or if you just want to check in, you are able to get a test at no cost.”
On Friday, the Illinois Department of Public Health also reported 2,818 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide over the previous 24 hours out of 71,599 tests performed, making for a single-day positivity rate of 3.9 percent. The seven-day rolling average positivity rate for Oct. 2-8 stood at 3.8 percent, marking a fifth straight day of increases.
Hospitalizations for the virus continue to push heights not seen since June. As of Thursday night, 1,812 people in Illinois were reported hospitalized with COVID-19 – the first time that metric exceeded 1,800 since June 18. Of those, 395 patients were in intensive care units – a number reached only once since June 29 – and 153 of those patients were on ventilators.
The lifting of restrictions in Region 4 leaves Region 1, in northwest Illinois, as the only region currently under enhanced mitigation efforts. That region stretches from DeKalb and Rockford to the Mississippi River.
As of Oct. 6, the most recent data available, the rolling average test positivity rate in Region 1 stood at 8.8 percent and was on an upward trend. In addition to a ban on indoor dining and drinking service, other mitigation efforts there include indoor gathering limits and limited hours for casinos and video gambling venues.
As of Friday, there were 26 counties in Illinois at a warning level for COVID-19 spread.
IDPH issues a warning when a county crosses certain targets for two or more risk indicators that measure the amount of COVID-19 increase. Those include things such as the daily number of new cases per 100,000 population, the county’s test positivity rate and new hospital admissions for COVID-19.
The counties at the warning level are Case, Christian, Clay, Clinton, Coles, Crawford, Effingham, Fayette, Henderson, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Knox, Lake, Lee, Mason, Massac, Pulaski, Richland, Saline, Shelby, Union, Vermilion, Whiteside, Winnebago and Warren.
There have now been 313,518 confirmed cases of the disease since the pandemic first appeared in Illinois. IDPH also reported another 35 confirmed virus-related deaths on Friday, bringing the statewide total to 8,945.
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.