A sign is seen May 29 at Independence Park in Evanston.
A sign is seen May 29 at Independence Park in Evanston.

As a public service, Shaw Media will provide open access to information related to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) emergency. Sign up for the newsletter here

As Illinois prepares to move to Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan Friday, Gov. JB Pritzker took a moment to tout the state's declining rates of infections and deaths from COVID-19, while also acknowledging that the coronavirus isn't gone and nearly 7,000 Illinoisans have died.

Some states that opened for business much earlier, such as Texas, are seeing a surge in the virus. Meanwhile, Illinois has seen infections and hospitalizations steadily creep downward. A month ago, there were almost 4,000 COVID-19 patients in Illinois hospitals. As of Wednesday night, there were 1,626.

“We’ve seen what’s happened in other states that have allowed politics or short-term thinking to drive decision-making," Pritzker said Thursday. "Many other states are now seeing significant increases in cases, hospitalizations and intensive care bed usage, and they’re being forced to move backward and stay at home. That’s not the story in Illinois.”

Phase 4 will bring gatherings of up to 50 people, limited indoor dining, reopening of gyms and more. Pritzker warned that state leaders "expect the journey ahead to be difficult."

"As more aspects of the economy open and more person-to-person interactions take place, there are many more opportunities for the spread of COVID-19," Pritzker said. "The virus hasn’t gone away.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health announced 41 additional deaths and 894 new confirmed cases on Thursday.

For the first time, the state tested more than 30,000 people in a single day. A total of 31,686 people were tested in the previous 24 hours. The state’s seven-day positivity rate is at 3%.

IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike introduced a new online tool that tracks COVID-19 in each of the state's counties. She encouraged residents to continue wearing masks. Ezike likened not wearing a mask to playing Russian roulette.

“We don’t now who’s infected, we don’t know if we are infected," Ezike said. "We’re just taking a chance. Let’s not gamble with coronavirus.”

Illinois has now seen 139,434 cases of the virus and 6,810 people have died since the pandemic began. A total of 1,460,527 people have been tested.

Dr. Emily Landon, a University of Chicago infectious disease expert, said she believes Illinois is ready for Phase 4. She said this is the time to try a new phase – while the weather is nice and can provide outdoor space for people.

"We have plenty of testing, we know we’re catching a lot of the cases," Landon said. "That’s a big, important deal."

As of late Wednesday night, Illinois had 1,626 COVID-19 patients in the hospital. Of those currently hospitalized, 399 were in the ICU and 216 were on ventilators. Each of those numbers is at or near its lowest point since the pandemic began.

"So much progress has been made, and if we continue to follow the path the doctors recommend, we can continue our march forward," Pritzker said.

Pritzker said the state has 550 active contact tracers, with 250 new contact tracers identified and will be hired in the next few weeks. Additionally, he announced the state is introducing 12 mobile community testing teams that can move throughout the state wherever an outbreak might emerge.

Regional update: As of Wednesday, the Northeast region (Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, McHenry, Lake and Will counties) reported a positivity rate average of 5%. The region reported an average of 33% of medical/surgical beds available, 42% of ICU beds available and 74% of ventilators available.

The North Central region (Bureau, DeKalb, La Salle, Lee, Ogle, Whiteside, Carroll, Boone, Winnebago, Stephenson, Putnam and Jo Daviess counties) reported a positivity rate rolling average of 3%. On average, the region has enough medical/surgical beds to accommodate a 47% surge in COVID-19 cases. The region reported that 58% of ICU beds are available and 78% of ventilators are available.

The Central region reported an average positivity rate of 1%. On average, there was an availability of 41% of medical/surgical beds, 53% of ICU beds and 82% of ventilators.

The Southern region had an average positivity rate of 3%. On average, there was an availability of 44% of medical/surgical beds, 54% of ICU beds and 75% of ventilators.

Newly reported deaths:

- Cook County: 2 males 30s, 1 female 50s, 3 females 60s, 2 males 60s, 2 females 70s, 3 males 70s, 4 females 80s, 3 males 80s, 1 female 90s, 1 male 90s, 1 female 100+ 

- DuPage County: 1 male 70s, 1 female 80s, 2 male 80s, 1 male 90s

- Kane County: 1 male 50s, 1 male 70s

- Lake County: 1 male 60s, 1 male 80s

- La Salle County: 1 male 70s

- McHenry County: 1 male 70s, 1 male 80s

- Monroe County: 1 female 80s

- St. Clair County: 1 male 40s, 1 male 80s

- Will County: 2 females 80s

- Winnebago County: 1 male 80s