Daily press briefing

Gov. JB Pritzker addresses reporters’ questions during the daily COVID-19 update Wednesday in Chicago.

SPRINGFIELD — As statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations remain stable, state leaders say not much has changed to warrant an altered response to the pandemic.

“The virus hasn’t gone away. It is still out there, and nothing that we’re doing now is changing that fact,” Gov. JB Pritzker said during his daily COVID-19 briefing Wednesday in Chicago. “What we have changed, what has made things better, what has reduced the number of potential infections and the number of people going into the hospital and dying, is the fact that people have adhered to the stay-at-home order.”

The governor’s comments came one day after he laid out a five-phase, region-specific reopening plan that requires several improvements in hospitalization and case growth metrics before the state can slowly begin reopening its economy and rolling back social distancing measures.

It also came as the Illinois Department of Public Health reported the virus has now sickened 68,232 residents and is linked to 2,974 deaths. In the past 24 hours, 136 COVID-19-related deaths and 2,270 more confirmed cases were reported.

Hospitalization figures, which are reported daily by the various regions, have remained in a relative plateau for about a month. As of midnight, there were 4,832 COVID-19-positive individuals hospitalized, 1,231 in intensive care units and 780 on ventilators statewide.

There were 14,974 people tested in the past 24 hours, making for a 15.2 positivity rate.

A positivity rate below 20 percent for 14 straight days is a precondition in Pritzker’s plan before any region can move from phase two, or the “flattening” phase the state is currently in, to phase three, in which barbershops, salons and other select businesses can reopen and gatherings of up to 10 people can resume.

Phase five, or a full reopening of the economy, could be well over a year away, and is dependent on a vaccine being available, an effective and widely available treatment, or the elimination of new cases in a region.

“Well, I’m not the one holding back the economy from stage five, the COVID-19 virus is,” Pritzker said. “That’s the thing that’s been causing the very high infection rates, the hospitalizations and the deaths.”

House Republicans on Wednesday criticized the plan, saying it would not work and would kill small businesses, and they called on Democratic leaders to call a legislative session — perhaps at a Springfield convention center to make social distancing possible.

“This plan presumes that the governor shall rule the state for the upcoming months, and possibly much longer, if the vaccination is not available,” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said in a videoconference. “I took an oath of office to faithfully discharge my duties in the coequal branch of the government called the Legislature. I did not abdicate nor relinquish my elected responsibilities to the executive branch.”

At the briefing Wednesday, officials also faced questions as to how congregate settings would play into the reopening phases, as some communities with nursing homes or prisons are seeing elevated deaths and cases focused mainly in those facilities.

“Even if you were to keep everybody in a nursing facility that’s a resident … you have staff coming in and out literally every day, multiple shifts,” Pritzker said. “Many of those people live in the areas that those nursing homes and prisons exist and so I don’t think people should ignore the idea that there’s an infection in one of these congregate settings, thinking that it doesn’t have any effect on the community, so no, we’re not ignoring those.”

Pritzker said his plan does not consider when nursing homes can reopen to allow regular visits with family members.

“Nothing in this situation has changed to decrease the risk for that most vulnerable population,”

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