Illinois COVID cases surge to highest point of pandemic; Gov. Pritzker expands test, vaccine access

Illinois reported record 21,131 new COVID cases on Christmas Eve
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Governor JB Pritzker announced new measures to help Illinoisans get vaccinated and tested Monday as COVID cases surge statewide thanks to the omicron variant.

At a press conference Monday, Pritzker said COVID cases across the state are surging at levels not previously seen, and hospitalizations are beginning to follow suit.

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Gov. JB Pritzker announced new efforts to expand testing and vaccinations in Illinois Monday as the omicron variant spreads.



To help deal with that, Pritzker announced an expansion of both testing and vaccination clinics with New Year's Eve fast approaching.

"Listen. Let's be clear, every single event being held during the holiday season will have one or two uninvited and unwanted guests: delta and or omicron," said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director, Illinois Department of Public Health.

SEE ALSO | CDC cuts isolation restrictions for those who catch COVID, recommends shorter quarantine for all

Pritzker did not beat around the bush, painting in stark terms what the upcoming New Year's Eve festivities will bring. Ezike brought along with her the numbers to back those pronouncements up.

"Right now we're absolutely seeing the highest surge in cases from across the entire pandemic for the last two years," Ezike said.

In the first update after the Christmas holiday, the Illinois Department of Public health reported more than 21,000 new and confirmed probable COVID cases statewide just for December 24, the largest one-day increase on record. Hospitalizations are quickly following suit.

"If it was just cases and no one was ending up in the hospital, then let the cases be," Ezike said. "But we saw just in the last 24 hours, the number of COVID patients in the last 24 hours increase by a net of 330."

SEE ALSO | Pediatric hospitalizations up 395% in NYC amid COVID surge: What to know about kids and omicron

With a shortage of at-home COVID tests and long lines at most testing centers, the state also announced a 50% increase in the number of state-run testing clinics as well as expanding vaccination clinics and providing additional personnel to local health departments who've been struggling not with vaccine availability, but with enough staffing to administer those vaccines.

"What we're doing is expanding by tens of thousands the ability for people to get boosted and get vaccinated during this time when there's high demand," Pritzker said.

WATCH | COVID testing demand surges along with omicron cases
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The omicron COVID surge comes with an accompanying explosion in demand for COVID testing, making lines longer and at-home kits more scarce.



"We stood in that line for 40 minutes and then we saw people in this line and it looked like it was moving faster, so we waited in this line for 20 minutes," said Maureen Flynn, who was getting tested after the holiday.

Like many people, Flynn and Brady Gent canceled their Christmas plans after they were exposed to COVID last week.

"We were exposed last Monday, we laid low for a couple days, the rule of thumb is like five to seven days after exposure to be tested," Gent said.

Unless you develop symptoms first, testing five to seven days after exposure is the CDC recommendation. Testing too early can give a false sense of security, doctors warn.

SEE ALSO | Exposed to COVID at a holiday gathering? What to know about quarantining, testing

"Omicron is extremely transmissible, so the likelihood of testing positive can always be there up until 14 days after initial exposure, which is why health care providers push masking and social distancing," said Dr. Sindhu Aderson, Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care.

While rapid tests are helpful for symptomatic people, doctors say PCR tests continue to be the gold standard for those without symptoms. Due to demand, turnaround times are getting longer.

"The labs are getting a bit backed up, our turnaround time is 36 hours," said Jayme Silvey, medical director at Innovative Express Care.

What the governor did not do is announce any new statewide mitigations, saying that he will leave it to individual jurisdictions to decide what works best for them.

SEE ALSO: Why messaging on COVID vaccine booster shots isn't working

Illinois public health officials reported 9,849 new COVID-19 cases and 17 related deaths Monday.

On Friday, 21,131 cases were reported, a record for a single day. On Saturday, 13,963 cases were reported and 11,016 cases were reported on Sunday.

There have been 2,077,260 total COVID cases, including 27,588 deaths in the state since the pandemic began.

SEE ALSO: Free at-home COVID rapid tests: What to know about Biden's plan to deliver 500 million kits
The seven-day statewide test positivity rate is 11.7%, up from just 8.6% on Thursday.

Within the past 24 hours, laboratories have reported testing 204,325 new specimens for a total of 43,914,913 since the pandemic began.

As of Sunday night, 4,755 patients in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 925 patients were in the ICU and 538 patients with COVID-19 were on ventilators.

A total of 18,985,816 vaccine doses have been administered in Illinois as of Sunday, and 60.29% of the state's population is fully vaccinated. The seven-day rolling average of vaccines administered daily is 49,226.

Cook County Health officials are expecting a post-holiday surge of cases.

Dr. Rachel Rubin, senior medical officer, Cook County Department of Public Health recommends getting tested three days before and three days after any family gatherings, even if you are vaccinated. If you have any slight symptom, like a cough or runny nose, she said to assume it's COVID and get tested to prove otherwise.
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