- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 18, 2020

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The number of new coronavirus infections reported in Illinois Wednesday fell below 10,000 for the first time in 13 days, but an analysis of data by The Associated Press shows an exponential spread of the virus during the past 12 weeks and prompted the governor to say that too many people still consider the pandemic a ‘hoax.”

There were 8,922 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, well below the 15,415 record set last Friday, but still significantly higher than at any time during the debut of the virus last spring. The 140 deaths recorded Wednesday is among the 10 highest daily death tolls since the pandemic hit in February.

The continuing crisis prompted another sharp rebuke from Gov. J.B. Pritzker during his COVID-19 briefing in Chicago. A day after tightening restrictions on social interaction to stem the spread, the Democrat went so far as to attack “conspiracy theories” and “right-wing ideology” for preventing too many people from taking the highly contagious virus seriously.

The extraordinary spread of the virus during its fall surge is clearly seen in the speed with which the state’s numbers hit milestones Wednesday, with overall cases topping 600,000 and deaths exceeding 11,000.

According to an AP analysis of Illinois Department of Public Health data, the virus infected 300,000 people within the first 212 days. To double that number to the current 606,771 took just 46 days, including eight days to jump from 500,000 to 600,000.

Similarly, the death toll is rising at rates seen in the worst days of spring. It took 51 days to reach 3,000 deaths, just 33 days to reach 6,000, 125 to hit 9,000, and 36 days to reach its current 11,014. The latest 1,000 occurred in less than two weeks.

The nearly 6,000 people hospitalized was another record, and is more than at the worst point last spring when officials scurried to set up field units to handle potential overflow. Pritzker noted that with a COVID-19 patients claiming one of every four hospital beds in the state, there are fewer beds unavailable for accident victims, those suffering heart attacks, expectant mothers or cancer patients.

“When we let our hospitals get overrun or even close to it, it is all of us suffering,” Pritzker said. “Whether because of conspiracy theories, right-wing ideology or naivete, too many people still seem to think that COVID-19 is a hoax.”

The problem isn’t technically hospital space. It’s finding enough professionals to care for the sick. Last spring, the massive field hospital at Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center was largely unused, along with four closed Chicago area hospitals that were retrofitted. One of those facilities, the former MetroSouth Medical Center in the south Cook County city of Blue Island that last spring had 585 available beds, remains ready.

Retired medical workers who were speedily recertified last spring for the surge are available, but with the pandemic roiling the entire nation, there are no extra hands to help should health care workers run short.

“You can’t just snap your fingers and find staff when the whole country is going through the COVID storm,” Pritzker said when asked how the state is preparing to find additional health personnel. “When you look at the states in the Midwest… their hospitals are overflowing. It’s very difficult to get new staff in.”

Pritzker put tighter restrictions on social interaction Tuesday as did most states this week. The so-called Tier 3 resurgence mitigations require retail stores to lower customer capacity to 25% from the current 50%, though grocery stores will be excluded and can operate at 50% capacity. Gyms will also be capped at 25% and indoor classes will no longer be allowed.

The governor warned that if the latest round of rules doesn’t cut down on transmission of the virus, the state may be in for another stay-at-home order, with which it was forced to abide for six weeks last spring.


Escalating cases of COVID-19 cases, deaths: https://bit.ly/3lJvdpH


Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnors

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