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‘A story of two states,’ Birx says of coronavirus in Chicago area vs. rest of Illinois

Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said parts of Illinois are experiencing high positivity rates.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response task force coordinator, speaks after a roundtable with health officials Tuesday at Rush University Medical Center.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response task force coordinator, speaks after a roundtable with health officials Tuesday at Rush University Medical Center.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, contrasted the Chicago area with other parts of Illinois while in town Tuesday to discuss the virus with local leaders.

“It’s like a story of two states right now,” she said. “We see a constant, low-grade community infection rate in Chicago and the metropolitan area.”

“We’ve seen a growing increase over the last four weeks in the number of counties that are above 5% and now above 10%, particularly in the southern area in Illinois.”

Illinois has 61 counties with a positivity rate of more than 5%, including 13 counties with a positivity rate of more than 10%, Birx pointed out during a news conference outside Rush University Medical Center after a closed-door meeting with health officials.

“We wanted to really understand what the state was doing to mitigate in those areas,” she said.

Birx also planned to meet Tuesday with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to discuss what they plan to do if things get worse.

“We ask every American and everyone in Illinois to continue wearing a mask,” she said.

Birx has been traveling across the country looking at Americans’ compliance with efforts to slow the spread of the virus. Illinois is the 25th state she’s visited.

“We look at what retail is happening, we look at what’s happening in your restaurants, we talk to baristas because we find that they’re a fount of information of what is happening, at least at the community level,” Birx said.

She also wanted to ensure every university has a plan to find students who test positive, isolate them and care for them without sending them home.

“If you have sent them home to a multigenerational household, you may unintentionally create spreading events in their hometown community,” she said.

“If you have been at a party or an event or you had a large gathering, potential exposure did occur and you need to assume that until you get tested that you could have the virus because you could be asymptomatic,” she said.