Illinois' COVID-19 cases could peak soon. Then what?
Despite a painful death toll from COVID-19 and mounting cases of the respiratory disease, state experts anticipate a peak is coming soon.
But what does a peak mean and what's next for anxious residents adhering to a stay-at-home order lasting through April 30?
A peak is "when we're experiencing the highest volume" of people both testing positive for the respiratory disease and hospitalized, said physician Michael Bauer, medical director of Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital.
As of Thursday, Illinois recorded an additional 66 deaths from the infection and 1,344 more confirmed cases. So far, 528 Illinoisans have died from the disease and 16,422 have contracted it.
But what provides a glimmer of hope, state officials said, is that the rate of increase of cases is slowing.
The actual COVID-19 peak could come within days, "somewhere in the range of April 15 to 20," according to the current models, Bauer said, noting that circumstances can change.
What is next for Illinois once the elusive peak is reached?
Don't expect a sudden drop-off of cases or deaths.
"It will be a much shallower curve," Bauer said. "A gradual decline. It's not like climbing a mountain, where we've got to the top -- and we turn around and start to climb back down."
"It may be at least three to four weeks before it starts to ramp down," Bauer said.
Had the state not closed restaurants, bars and schools March 15 and instituted a stay-at-home order March 20, it could have been much worse, Bauer said.
"It could have been a situation potentially closer to what you're seeing in New York," he said. New York officials reported 87,725 cases confirmed Thursday and 4,778 deaths.
"We were able to be a step ahead of them."
Time will tell if COVID-19 reacts as influenza does to warmer weather, when cases drop, Bauer said.
In the meantime, expect continued focus on social distancing into the summer. Gov. J.B. Pritzker Thursday threw cold water on the prospect of large outdoor festivals until a vaccine emerges, which is months away, or longer.
"We can't let our guard down," Bauer said.