Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and state officials speak at their daily press conference on May 14, 2020 | Photo: Illinois Information Service.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that the Northeast health region, which includes Chicago and the collar counties, has now met the criteria for moving on to Phase 3 later this month.

All four health regions are currently in Phase 2 of the five-phase plan but the Northeast region was the only one not on track to enter Phase 3 on May 29.

That changed on Thursday when the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) released new data showing all six requirements had been met after the region’s positivity rate dropped below 20% to 19.9%.

Phase 3 of the governor’s Restore Illinois plan allows retail, offices, barbershops and other businesses to reopen with precautions. All regions must continue to maintain a positivity rate of less than 20% along with five other metrics in order to move on to the next phase.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced 3,239 new coronavirus cases and 192 additional deaths on Thursday. The state’s COVID-19 case total is now at 87,937 positive cases and 3,928 deaths.

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Laboratories have processed 22,678 tests in the past 24 hours, officials said. The total number of people tested so far in the state is at 512,037.

The positivity rate statewide is 17 percent, according to IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike, who said that the rate is based on a seven-day average.

There are 4,473 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday evening. Among those, 1,132 are in the ICU and 689 are on ventilators.

“Please know people of all ages are falling victim to this new virus. This is a real disease. This is a serious disease. It is not a hoax and people need to take it seriously,” Ezike said.

“Please continue to stay home. Please maintain physical separation or social distancing. Please wear your mask. Please help us decrease the spread of this virus,” Ezike added.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker talked on Wednesday about how the state is trying to address COVID-19 in long-term care facilities.

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He said that IEMA and IDPH have coordinated to deliver personal protective equipment to more than 1,200 nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the state.

IDPH prioritizes testing at those facilities and officials are testing all residents and staff at facilities that do not have a known COVID-19 outbreak.

Pritzker warned business and leaders who choose to defy the state’s stay-at-home order.

“To the small minority of businesses that choose to ignore the medical doctors and the data and to ignore your legal obligations to the residents of your communities: there will be consequences,” he said.

Business and individuals that are licensed by state agencies will be “held accountable for breaching public health orders,” Pritzker said.

“Counties that try to reopen in defiance may not be reimbursed by FEMA for damages they caused because they ignored the law. Local law enforcement and Illinois State Police can and will take action,” Pritzker said.

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On Tuesday, Ezike addressed concerns that some people believe the number of COVID-19 deaths are inflated.

“In Illinois, we are reporting those deaths that have laboratory confirmation. As we learn more about the disease, there may have been less typical presentation of COVID-19 that were not appropriately attributed to COVID because there wasn’t a test done because the suspicion wasn’t there,” Ezike said.

“There is also some additional deaths that happened in someone who happened to be COVID positive but the COVID infection had nothing to do with the death,” she explained, adding that health officials are trying to remove obvious cases where a COVID diagnosis had nothing to do with the death — like a shooting or car accident victim.

Pritzker said that $25 million has been put forward to local governments in an effort to accelerate planned infrastructure projects around the state.