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What Illinois Health Officials Say Could be Early Signs of a Post-Thanksgiving Surge

NBC Chicago logo NBC Chicago 11/25/2020
a man and a woman standing in front of a store: CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – NOVEMBER 25: Travelers check in with TSA at O’Hare International Airport on November 25, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. Although airports are expecting fewer than half the number of travelers from Thanksgiving 2019, they are anticipating the largest number of travelers since March when the COVID-19 pandemic became widespread in the United States.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) © Getty Images

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – NOVEMBER 25: Travelers check in with TSA at O’Hare International Airport on November 25, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. Although airports are expecting fewer than half the number of travelers from Thanksgiving 2019, they are anticipating the largest number of travelers since March when the COVID-19 pandemic became widespread in the United States. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

As airports and travel hubs fill up with Thanksgiving travelers despite warnings from health officials in the state and country, experts are bracing for the potential of a post-Thanksgiving coronavirus surge.

But what will that look like?

According to Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the first sign of a surge will be an increase in cases one to two weeks after the holiday.

"That will be a sign that maybe there was spreading at the Thanksgiving holiday," Ezike said during a briefing Wednesday.

Health experts have long said that hospitalizations and deaths typically follow a spike in cases, so those numbers will likely be the first indicator.

Despite guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, large crowds and lines formed for several days at O’Hare International Airport as travelers prepared to depart Chicago ahead of Thanksgiving.

Health officials pleaded with Illinois residents to turn celebrations virtual, saying this week it's not too late to change your Thanksgiving plans.

Officials in both Chicago and the state used Wednesday press conferences to deliver last-minute warnings aimed at preventing Thanksgiving from becoming a "super-spreader" holiday that dangerously elevates hospitalizations and the number of coronavirus deaths.

"Let me put this as bluntly as I can: We are extremely concerned about Thanksgiving weekend becoming a super spreading event," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a news conference Wednesday morning.

"The safest thing we can do for one another is stay within our own households – but if you are gathering with even just a few people, it’s a better idea to take Thanksgiving outside. This is not the year to have everybody over at Grandma’s house," Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.

To underscore their point, IDPH released a graphic, "On the 14th day of COVID," to show the potential spread of the virus.

Ezike urged anyone who believes they may be exposed during the holiday to wait seven days before getting tested, unless they are experiencing symptoms.

Still, officials reminded residents, "you can't test out of quarantine" as she said those exposed should still isolate for 14 days.

"Remember: even if you test negative, it’s possible that you were in fact exposed and it’s just too early for the virus to show up on a test – so don’t think of a negative test as any kind of free pass," Pritzker said. "That’s especially true going into this holiday weekend."

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