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COVID-19 restrictions won't be eased in any part of the state for the next several weeks even if a region shows improvement in controlling the virus, Gov. JB Pritzker said Monday.

With ongoing fears that Thanksgiving holiday gatherings could lead to another spike in coronavirus cases, Pritzker said Illinois cannot afford to let its guard down now.

Pritzker said hospitalizations from the virus are still 25% higher than they were during their peak in the spring. He also said that over the weekend, Dr. Anthony Fauci "offered a bleak outlook and a warning that over the next two or three weeks we may see a surge upon a surge related to the holidays."

"He said the massive number of indoor gatherings by people visiting family and friends across the nation will very likely bring a post-Thanksgiving surge and he believes this is no time to pull back on mitigations," Pritzker said.

In addition, the situation in the state remains precarious.

"The dip in Illinois' cases over the last few days comes as we are seeing near record high numbers of hospitalizations, meaning that our ability to handle any new surge in COVID patients is still limited," Pritzker said. "If we are not especially careful right now, the surge will overwhelm our state's health care system."

Consequently, Pritzker said, every region of the state will remain on the Tier 3 mitigations now in effect even if a region has shown improvement in controlling the growth in cases or showing improvement in other medical criteria.

"We are still very much in a precarious place and we have got to take the time to evaluate any Thanksgiving effect before we make any premature adjustments," Pritzker said.

Illinois reported another 6,190 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 Monday, the fourth day in a row that the number of new cases was below 10,000. The new cases brought the statewide total to 726,304 since the start of the pandemic earlier this year. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported an additional 85 deaths from the virus, bringing the death toll to 12,278.

IDPH reported 5,849 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, with 1,217 of them in intensive care and 715 requiring ventilators. All of those numbers have remained relatively flat for several days. The statewide positivity rate ticked up to 10.2 after several days at 10.1%.

Pritzker said numbers from the last few days "have offered a hint of progress," but he also said he had hoped the state would have made more progress in reducing hospitalizations.

"If we stay the course yet a while longer we will end this pandemic soon," said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the IDPH.

Despite concerns about another spike in cases, Pritzker said he isn't ready to issue another stay at home order, although it remains a possibility if things get worse.

"If everybody follows the mitigations and if we don't see as big a surge as is being discussed nationwide, we'll be able to avoid a stay at home order," Pritzker said.

Even if a stay at home order is required, Pritzker said it will be different from the one issued in the spring that shut down most of the state.

"It's not something right now that we think we're going to have to do," he said.

Both Pritzker and Ezike warned again that while vaccines to protect against the virus could be approved soon, it will still be a long time before they are widely available to the majority of the public. Until then, people will still have to wear masks and practice distancing to help avoid spreading or contracting the disease.

This article originally ran on herald-review.com.

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