Coronavirus in Illinois updates: Death toll passes 8,500 in state, more than 1,700 people currently hospitalized

The death toll from the coronavirus in Illinois has passed 8,500, according to state public health officials who say more than 1,700 people are currently hospitalized with the disease, 400 of them in intensive care units.

Public health officials said there have been more than 281,000 positive cases of COVID-19 out of nearly 5.3 million tests administered in the state. On Thursday, 62,071 tests had been done over the past 24 hours, putting the state’s seven-day positivity rate at 3.5%.

However, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has warned that Region 1 in northern Illinois, which includes the Rockford and Dixon areas, has seen positivity rates rise to 7.5 %, near the 8% threshold that would bring additional restrictions on public gatherings.

Here’s what’s happening Friday with COVID-19 in the Chicago area and Illinois:

What will it take to make diners feel safe indoors? Nearly 60% feel uneasy eating inside, so restaurants try sterilizing UV wands, tabletop air purifiers as winter looms.

The host greeting diners at Formento’s, an Italian restaurant in the West Town neighborhood, now offers guests something new alongside the menu and wine list: a portable air purifier for their table.

The tabletop devices are among a series of air quality upgrades the restaurant introduced this month to assure customers they can breathe easy dining inside.

Diners can also expect to see bussers using ultraviolet wands to sterilize glassware and utensils, and little air-sucking robots in various corners of the restaurant that use heat to kill microorganisms. Unseen are new air filters installed in the HVAC system meant to trap virus particles.

The changes were costly for a restaurant that continues to lose money due to COVID-19. Read more here. -- Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz

With the pandemic, parents and educators embrace outdoor preschools. Many hope the move will be permanent.

On a hazy September afternoon near a willow tree, a boy with a bright red backpack spotted something slimy on the ground.

“Hello, all the mushrooms,” he said, gently tapping the fungus, trying not to crush any as his small feet moved through the grass.

A teacher asked why they might be growing in that spot. The boy thought for a moment. “Because it’s shady and wet!”

That was just one lesson for the group of kids at the Chicago Botanic Garden Nature Preschool, a program that’s part of the growing field of nature-based early childhood education.

Nature preschools were increasing before the pandemic, more than doubling in the last three years, according to a report from the Natural Start Alliance, a project of the North American Association for Environmental Education. The report estimates 585 schools across the country have nature-based education at their core, meaning a significant amount of time is spent outside. Illinois is among the states with the most programs — topping 20. California and Washington, with about 50 programs each, lead the list. Read more here. -- Morgan Greene

Here are five stories related to COVID-19 from Thursday:

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