'This virus isn't taking a holiday': Governor Pritzker, IDPH issues COVID-19 holiday safety tips

Holidays amid COVID-19 pandemic

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Governor Pritzker and IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike are looking ahead to the holiday season amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and are providing recommendations and guidelines to celebrate safely.

During a COVID-19 briefing, Governor Pritzker highlighted the importance of keeping the number of cases down as we move closer to the holiday season.

"Preparations for Halloween and Dia de los Muertos have already begun. Diwali starts one month from now, and before you know it, it will be Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza and New Year's. It's a fully of some of the biggest traditional family gatherings in a multitude of cultures by and large representing the busiest travel times of the year.

"Family gatherings, celebratory vacations, travel — all phrases that have taken on a new meaning and a new sense of concern in a way we never expected a year ago. But just as was true for Easter and Eid and the Fourth of July, this virus doesn't make exceptions for traditions. Yesterday, the CDC director reiterated a concern the epidemiologists have been expressing from weeks now - small family gatherings are one of the most prevalent ways that the virus is being transmitted," Pritzker said.

In terms of Thanksgiving, he said, "There is no free pass in this season of giving when it comes to COVID-19. When confronted with decisions about the upcoming holiday season, many people who have erred on the side of caution up to now might face new temptation to let their guard down. Let me be blunt: This virus isn't taking a holiday. It only wants to find new hosts. If you think it's okay to let your guard down, because some people seem find after they got COVID-19, I'll remind you that many people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are experiencing long-hauler symptoms of this virus...Even for healthy, young people, that's not a walk in the park. So don't treat it like one. The safest thing to do is to take precautions."

Pritzker said IDPH will be releasing recommendations and guidelines from medical experts on how to have Thanksgiving and other holidays safely. He said the recommendations will cover things like travel, overnight stays, holiday shopping, and celebratory meals. He had Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, touch on some of the guidance.

Dr. Ezike said celebrating this holiday season will take a little bit a creativity and extra precautions, but definitely advanced planning.

"The safest way to celebrate with the members of your household is to connect with people outside of your household virtually. But I know, we all know, that many people will be gathering and getting together with family and friends, so I'd like to provide some tips on how we can do that a little more safely."

• If you are traveling: Think about how you'll travel. If traveling by plane, recognize lines and security at airports and keep six feet of distance. This also goes for traveling by bus and train. Traveling by car may include stops along the way for gas, food, and bathroom break. Decrease your risk by consistently wearing a mask and washing your hands.

• If you are hosting: Try to have as many activities outdoors, as the weather will permit. Limit the number of people. Increase air circulation indoors by opening windows. Please prepare yourself and your guests to wear masks indoors when not eating and drinking. Try to limit your exposures in the preceding two weeks before traveling and have guests limit theirs.

• If shopping: Consider going to stores at off-peak times when they're not as crowded. Order online or call a store and drive up to pick up your purchases. Grocery shopping online with delivery and curbside pick-up is also available in many locations.

• During seating: Try to keep members of the same household together and separate other households. Try using smaller tables and spread out the celebration over multiple rooms.

• When serving food: Avoid a buffet-style or potluck setting and consider having one person serve all the food so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils. Also try to limit the number of people going in and out of areas where food is being prepared – like the kitchen and dining room. If buffet style, remind people to wash their hands before eating.

• Space: Try to limit people in a smaller area, like a kitchen.

And if you are sick, "please, please understand that you need to stay home. Don't assume that your symptoms are not serious, don't assume that they are not COVID, don't assume that you're not contagious. Take the better decision and, if you are sick, please stay home. We don't want to have our holidays marred by tragedy on the backend."

To help stave off illness, get your flu vaccine now, IDPH said. It takes the body several weeks after receiving the vaccine to build up antibodies that will help protect you from flu, so get it now to help protect you and others during the holidays. Roll your #SleeveUp and get your flu shot.

For more holiday safety tips, go to the IDPH website under guidance.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported Wednesday 2,862 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, including 49 additional confirmed deaths.

The new numbers bring Illinois' total number of COVID-19 cases to 327,605, including 9,074 deaths, in 102 counties in Illinois.

The good news, Pritzker announced Wednesday at a COVID-19 briefing, is that "Illinois is now averaging more than 60,000 tests per day for the last seven days - meaning we test three times as much as the average state. The vast majority of test results are being returned within an actionable period of time. Unfortunately, all 11 regions have seen an increase in positivity compared to where we were at last week's update."

He said statewide the positivity rate has rose by more than one full percentage point in the last week alone. IDPH reported the preliminary seven-day statewide positivity for cases as a percent of total test from Oct. 7-13 is 4.6 percent.

Pritzker also said COVID-19 hospital admissions have increased in the same period of time. As of Tuesday night, 1,974 people in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 390 patients were in the ICU and 153 patients with COVID-19 were on ventilators.

"To date Illinois has had relative success in keeping this virus at bay, and we are still doing better than many of our neighbors, but we can't let up," Pritzker said. "And these numbers are indicating a concerning direction."

That's particularly true in Region 5, Southern Illinois, Pritzker said, which surpasses 8 percent positivity on average, up from 5.8 percent just two weeks ago.

"I have one simple thing to say...Mask up. It will make a tremendous difference in keeping infections down," Pritzker said.

Starting tomorrow, IDPH will begin reporting both molecular and antigen tests, which are diagnostic tests for COVID-19, on its website, Dr. Ezike said. Neither of these are the antibody tests, which represent previous infection. Antibody tests are not going to be included in the count...Until now, the number only reflected the molecular tests.

"Antigen tests thus far have compromised less than 1 percent of all tests performed to date. But with more rapid antigen tests being deployed to the states from the federal government and other sources, and an updated national case definition..., we will see the number of antigen tests increase," she said.

Also, IDPH is redoing how they calculate data for Region 6 "to more accurately represent the spread across the region." Champaign County and its data will continue to be included in Region 6. What will be removed is the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign saliva testing, Dr. Ezike said.

"As always, wash up, back up - maintain your distance, mask up, and sleeve up - as a reminder to get your flu shot," she said.