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Virus cases soar in Illinois. Pritzker shuts down casinos, theaters, museums

Virus cases soar in Illinois. Pritzker shuts down casinos, theaters, museums


ST. LOUIS — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, in the face of another week of record-breaking virus counts, announced on Tuesday new limits on shops, sports and gatherings, plus the complete shutdown of theaters, museums and casinos.

Illinois reported on Tuesday 12,601 new cases of COVID-19 — six times the daily count two months ago. A record 5,887 patients were in hospitals statewide, as of Monday night. The state tallied 97 more Illinoisans dead.

“The simple fact is that COVID-19 is spreading quickly and widely. Our hospitals are beginning to experience real strain, and at the current infection rate they will be overwhelmed,” Pritzker said at a briefing.

St. Louis hospital leaders, desperate to stem the tide, have repeatedly urged Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to mandate masks statewide and limit gatherings, dining and shopping. Parson has not. And on Tuesday, the state’s and region’s record-breaking tallies continued to rise:

St. Louis hospitals reported 144 new COVID-19 admissions to BJC HealthCare, SSM Health, Mercy and St. Luke’s facilities in the metro area, blowing past the previous record, 133, set Friday.

And Missouri added 5,717 new cases of the virus, the second-highest daily increase ever, according to Post-Dispatch data, after the 6,346 reported on Saturday. Missouri also reported 2,454 COVID-19 hospitalized patients statewide, the third-highest total ever, and 67 new deaths, 42 of which were previously unreported.

St. Louis-area hospitals are now admitting more than triple the average number of daily COVID-19 patients as at the beginning of October, and more than double the spring peak. Statewide, the seven-day average of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has increased by almost 50% over just two weeks.

Pritzker’s decision Tuesday catapults the whole state into what he calls Tier 3 mitigations, starting Friday. Every region in the state was already under at least Tier 1 mitigations, which in each case were prompted by either high positivity rates or concerns for hospital capacity.

Retail establishments must drop to 25% capacity; grocery stores and pharmacies to 50%. Gyms can stay open at 25% capacity, if masks are worn at all times and locker room areas are closed. Pritzker said he expects local officials to issue fines as a way to enforce the restrictions on businesses.

Personal care services, such as hair salons, can operate with a maximum of 25 clients or 25% capacity, whichever is lower, and masks must be worn at all times. Pritzker barred indoor group sports and all gatherings, even at home, outside of household members.

“This is not a stay-at-home order. But the best way for us to avoid a stay-at-home order is to stay home,” Pritzker said.

Without additional mitigations, deaths could far surpass levels not seen since the spring, he said.

State health director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said residents need to make personal choices beyond the state’s restrictions in order to reign in the surging infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

“We have tried to do it one way, and it’s not been enough,” Ezike said. “We all see that it’s not working, and that we’re going in the wrong direction and headed over a steep cliff.”

Greg Kelley, president of Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois, said in a statement Tuesday that union members support the governor’s decision to tighten restrictions.

“When many in the public are cavalier about a life-threatening virus, it endangers the lives of the essential healthcare workers that society depends on to save them,” Kelley wrote.

St. Clair County Board Chair Mark Kern also backed Pritzker.

Hopefully the region moves back to lighter restrictions soon, he said at a briefing.

But, he said, it will take time.

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