covid

Coronavirus testing continues Wednesday at the state-sponsored drive-thru site in a parking lot at Market Place Mall in Champaign.

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CHAMPAIGN — By this point in the pandemic, Julie Pryde figured there’d be an extended lull in new COVID-19 cases around Champaign County.

“Instead,” the Champaign Urbana Public Health District administrator said Wednesday, “CUPHD is getting ready to add an evening shift.”

What was supposed to be a slow, steady return to normal in Phase 4 of the state’s Restore Illinois plan has instead reverted in recent days to early-Phase 3-type figures:

— In the past week, Champaign County has recorded two of its three biggest single-day increases in newly confirmed cases of the pandemic — 43 on Friday and 36 on Tuesday, one fewer than the previous high of 37, set on May 19.

— On Wednesday, Vermilion County recorded its biggest single-day jump in cases yet — 12.

— Also Wednesday, the state added 1,598 new cases, its most since June 2, prompting Gov. J.B. Pritzker to warn: “Let’s not forget that it doesn’t take long at all to reverse all of our gains, and for a trajectory of success to be turned on its head.”

So why the sudden spikes in new cases, just as thousands of University of Illinois students prepare to flock to Champaign-Urbana for a fall semester like none other?

One thing it’s not, as far as health officials can tell, is the result of a few parties getting out of hand over the Fourth of July weekend, as some have speculated.

“I only spoke with six of the 12 new positive cases reported in Vermilion County today, but none of those people said that Fourth of July celebrations were a factor,” Vermilion County Health Department Administrator Doug Toole said from Danville.

It’s also not a simple case of more testing leading to more cases, Pryde said.

“We are seeing outbreaks associated with bars, parties and gatherings,” she said Wednesday. “Once we moved to Phase 4, and gatherings of 50 were mentioned, apparently people thought that meant they can now hang around 50 people.”

Pritzker and Pryde both warned of the potential consequences of not abiding by state health guidelines. What’s happening in other states — Florida, Texas, California — could play out here, too.

“If we don’t see a change, people should expect to see closures again,” Pryde cautioned. “I have always feared winter because COVID will be circulating with flu and other respiratory viruses.

“This could quickly overwhelm our health care systems,” she said. “I certainly did not expect to see this level of transmission in the middle of summer. It is very disappointing.

“This is the reality that will not change until this pandemic ends: being within 6 feet of others is a risk,” she added. “Not wearing a mask is a risk. Not wearing a mask and going to parties or work or bars or church or a funeral or anything else is a risk. It does not matter what you are doing or who you are doing it with. It is and will continue to be a risk.”