Illinois and Chicago officials make one last plea: Skip the traditional Thanksgiving

©Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — A day before Thanksgiving, state and city officials painted a dire picture of what could happen if residents don’t skip the holiday’s traditional gatherings amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“We don’t want anybody’s Thanksgiving dinner to turn into a COVID-19 superspreader event,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said during the state’s daily coronavirus briefing. “Our goal is to protect and not infect those that we love and care for.”

Ezike said the first sign of a post-Thanksgiving wave of coronavirus infections would arise in cases within the next week or two. That could be followed by a new surge in hospitalizations and, ultimately, deaths, she said.

“The safest thing we can do for one another is stay within our own households,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. “But if you are hellbent on gathering with others outside your own home, please do it with just a few people. And, importantly, this is not the year to have everybody over at Grandma’s house.”

State officials are encouraging those who do ignore the warnings against mixed household gatherings to get tested for the coronavirus a week later, or sooner if symptoms develop.

The holiday comes at a precarious time for Chicago and Illinois in the battle against the virus, although increases in both new cases and positivity rates have leveled off in recent days after rapid gains throughout October and early November.

State health officials on Wednesday reported 11,378 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 after two days in a row with fewer than 10,000 cases. Over the past week, the state is averaging 11,242 cases per day. In all, there have been 685,467 cases since the pandemic began.

With 155 more fatalities also reported Wednesday, the statewide death toll stood at 11,832. The state is averaging 118 deaths per day over the past week, matching the highest seven-day average seen during the first wave of the pandemic in mid-May. A week ago, the average was 83 daily deaths, and a month ago it was 42.

The share of coronavirus cases out of all tests conducted reached a statewide average of 10.6% for the week ending Tuesday, a slight uptick from the previous day, but still down from the 11.9% case positivity rate reported a week earlier.

Results from 114,233 coronavirus tests were reported in the previous 24 hours, pushing the total number of tests in Illinois since the start of the pandemic past 10 million.

As of Tuesday night, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals statewide was relatively stable from the day before, another sign of a welcome trend after an exponential surge in hospitalizations in recent weeks.

Earlier Wednesday, Chicago officials shared similar concerns to those expressed by Pritzker and Ezike.

Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s public health commissioner, said the Canadian Thanksgiving last month led to a dramatic spike in cases, upping Chicago officials’ concern. Arwady cited an internet meme to encourage people to stay home with just members of their household: “It’s better to have a Zoom Thanksgiving than an ICU Christmas.”

About 50 million Americans are expected to travel, so people need to double down on precautions to avoid spikes in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

The city couldn’t provide reliable projections for how many passengers were traveling through O’Hare International and Midway airports ahead of the holiday.

“COVID-19 is being spread by people being close together in enclosed spaces,” Lightfoot said.

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©2020 Chicago Tribune