Some COVID restrictions lifted after Illinois records smallest daily caseload in more than 3 weeks

The statewide seven-day positivity rate fell for the 10th consecutive day.

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Barbara Shields-Johnson, director of Nursing Services at Loretto Hospital, gets her second and final dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Norwegian American Hospital on the West Side, Tuesday morning, Jan. 5, 2021.

Barbara Shields-Johnson, director of nursing services at Loretto Hospital, gets her second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times file

Chicago and most of its surrounding suburbs were given the green light on Monday to increase capacity at casinos, museums and big-box retailers and bring back indoor fitness classes and recreation programs as the regions were bumped to Tier 2 mitigations.

Indoor dining, however, remains prohibited in the Chicago area.

The loosened business restrictions announced Monday by the Illinois Department of Public Health are due to a change in staffing contracts that increased hospital staffing statewide.

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Under the new mitigation metrics, Regions 8, 9, 10 and 11 — which cover the Chicago area including north and west suburban Cook County — were moved from the most restrictive Tier 3 to Tier 2. Meanwhile, Regions 1, 2 and 6 — or north, north-central and east-central Illinois — were bumped to Tier 1, allowing for bars and restaurants to open indoor service at limited capacity. Regions 3 and 5 — or west-central and the southern part of the state — are returning to Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois Plan, while Regions 4 and 7 — which cover south suburban Cook County and southwest Illinois — remain in Tier 3.

“Hospital leaders have made clear the importance of staffing in their continued response to this pandemic and conveyed that staffing contracts will be extraordinarily valuable in their ability to meet the needs of their communities,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “It is critical that we maintain this progress. With new variants of COVID-19 spreading, it is more important than ever to follow the public health guidance that keeps people safe — wear your mask and watch your distance.”

The news comes as state health officials reported 3,385 new and probable COVID-19 cases — its smallest daily caseload in over three weeks — as Illinois’ seven-day positivity rate continued to fall.

Health officials also announced an additional 50 coronavirus-related deaths, raising the statewide death toll to 18,258. More than half of Monday’s fatalities were reported in the Chicago area, including a Cook County man in his 30s.

Monday’s cases were found among 63,002 tests reported to the Illinois Department of Public Health over the last 24 hours, continuing an encouraging trend as the state continues to rebound from a record-setting resurgence in late November. The new cases brings the state’s total to 1,072,214 infections over the past 11 months.

The statewide seven-day positivity rate dropped for the 10th consecutive day, down to 5.9%, the lowest it’s been since Oct. 23. That’s a decline of nearly 2 percentage points from last Monday when the rate was 7.6%.

The improvement of that metric is significant because experts use it to gauge how rapidly the virus is spreading in the state.

Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations have also been on a gradual decline. As of Sunday night, 3,345 beds were occupied statewide by coronavirus patients, with 705 of those patients in intensive care units and 392 on ventilators, officials said. That’s the lowest hospital admission due to COVID-19 since early November.

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The U.S. continues its unprecedented vaccine rollout. In Illinois, 495,563 vaccines have been administered, including 66,679 for long-term care facilities.

While front-line hospital and health care workers and long-term care facility workers and residents remain a priority, the next group of Illinoisans in line for the vaccine are expected to start getting shots Jan. 25, according to Pritzker. The second group is reserved for people 65 and older and front-line essential workers, including teachers, first responders, postal and public transit employees, corrections workers, incarcerated people and manufacturing, distribution and agriculture workers, including grocery store workers.

Contributing: Manny Ramos

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