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September marks deadliest COVID-19 month for Illinois since winter as overall numbers improve

The virus claimed more than 1,000 Illinois lives last month, but data shows the Delta variant surge is waning.

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine dose in June in Chinatown. About 80% of eligible Illinois residents have gotten at least one shot.
A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine dose in June in Chinatown. About 80% of eligible Illinois residents have gotten at least one shot.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The Delta variant surge might be dying down in Illinois, but it caused the deadliest COVID-19 month the state has suffered since last winter, according to figures released Friday.

The virus claimed 1,023 lives in September, the first time the monthly statewide death toll has measured in four figures since February, when 1,279 residents were killed, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

September’s toll was greater than the 728 lives lost over the previous two months combined. And it was almost twice as bad as last September, when 656 residents died with the virus.

But it’s not even a quarter as bad as Illinois’ worst month. A staggering 4,234 residents died during the darkest days of the crisis in December.

This past July saw 222 coronavirus deaths, the fewest of any calendar month since March of 2020. July was when Delta began tearing through unvaccinated communities, causing average daily caseloads to multiply by a factor of 14 within several weeks.

Cases have now been on the decline for about a month. Public health officials reported 18,735 cases over the past week, or about 2,676 per day — a 14% decrease compared to the previous week and a 38% decrease since the first week of September.

New COVID-19 cases by day

Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times

Source: Illinois Department of Public Health

Graph not displaying properly? Click here.

With 1,833 beds occupied Thursday night, COVID-19 hospitalizations have dipped about 5% since last week and 20% since last month.

Even fatalities — which are considered a “lagging indicator” of the pandemic because it takes several weeks for rising case numbers to develop into more serious infections — are dropping off slightly. The state reported 236 deaths over the last week, about 34 per day, compared to 239 the previous week.

Illinois’ overall COVID-19 death toll since March 2020 is up to 25,017. Nearly 2,700 additional deaths are considered to have been probable but untested coronavirus cases.

Despite the recent improvement, many downstate hospitals are still being stretched thin. The situation has improved in southern Illinois, where intensive care units were at full capacity for a week in mid-September, but still only five ICU beds were available for the 20-county region as of Thursday.

The region has some of the lowest vaccination rates in Illinois, down to a statewide low of 17.5% in Alexander County.

Nearly 80% of all Illinois residents 12 or older have gotten at least one shot, with 62.4% fully vaccinated.

About 73% of eligible Chicagoans have gotten at least one dose. The city is aiming to inoculate 77% of residents by the end of the year.

Officials are offering $100 in Visa gift cards to those who roll up their sleeves at city-run mobile vaccination events or who sign up for in-home shot appointments at (312) 746-4835.