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More than 11,000 new COVID-19 cases in Illinois, most in a year — with Omicron still looming

Thursday’s caseload is nearly twice as high as any other day over the past 10 months. Officials say it’s critical that more residents get vaccinated.

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine in June in Chinatown. Illinois recorded its highest coronavirus caseload in a year on Thursday.
A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine in June in Chinatown. Illinois recorded its highest coronavirus caseload in a year on Thursday.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Illinois has yet to detect its first confirmed case of COVID-19’s Omicron variant, but the Delta strain is still inflicting serious damage statewide.

Public health officials on Thursday announced a staggering 11,524 newly diagnosed coronavirus cases, the most logged in Illinois in a full year — a figure not seen since the state’s worst surge of the pandemic last fall before any life-saving vaccines were available.

That’s nearly double any other daily case count reported by the state in the past 10 months. Illinois has averaged more than 5,300 new cases per day over the past week, a rate that has jumped by 136% over the past month — and that has multiplied by a factor of 16 compared to early July.

The latest troubling caseload is the state’s 13th highest of any day throughout the pandemic. The state reported more than 15,000 cases on Nov. 13, 2020, what was then a national record.

Thursday’s cases were diagnosed among a record-high 231,876 tests processed by the Illinois Department of Public Health, but numbers have been rising steadily across the board since late October.

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.

The seven-day average statewide case positivity rate is up to 4.7%, suggesting community transmission is at its highest point in nearly three months.

And hospitals across the state were treating 2,537 COVID-19 patients Wednesday night, the greatest burden they’ve faced since late January. More than 6,000 beds were occupied during the worst nights of the crisis last fall.

While the latest spike started before Omicron even entered the pandemic alphabet, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he thinks the latest variant — which has been detected in Minnesota — is “probably in the state of Illinois already.”

“What we’ve seen is that hospitalizations are going up, and there hasn’t been a worse level of sickness anyway, so far, among those hospitalizations. It’s just mostly unvaccinated people,” Pritzker said at an unrelated news conference.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a Chicago news conference on Thursday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a Chicago news conference on Thursday.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The governor said he isn’t planning on imposing any business restrictions in response to the state’s fifth surge but added that “we’re always watching that to know: Is there something more we need to do?”

For now, leaders are sticking to the key COVID-19 principles of urging people to wash their hands, maintain social distance, wear masks and, most importantly, get vaccinated.

About 74% of Illinoisans 5 or older have gotten at least one shot, and nearly 66% are considered fully vaccinated. About a quarter of fully vaccinated adults have gotten a booster shot.

So far, only 0.05% of fully vaccinated residents have ended up hospitalized with COVID-19, and just 0.015% have died. While researchers are still trying to determine how effective the vaccines are against Omicron, they’re expected to provide at least some level of protection.

That’s why officials are imploring the remaining roughly one-quarter of the population that are still unvaccinated to roll up a sleeve.

“The longer we allow it to circulate, the greater the possibility for more deadly variants,” Cook County Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Gregory Huhn said at a separate news conference. He also encouraged the public to get tested ahead of family gatherings.

Religious leaders from Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Greek Orthodox and other communities also implored communities to get vaccinated ahead of the holidays.

“We heal and nourish one another through the saving remedy of our vaccines,” said the Rev. William Grogan of the Chicago Archdiocese. “Catholic teaching is very clear: There is no reasonable grounds, but for physical allergy, that a person should not get the vaccine.”

The virus has claimed at least 26,499 Illinois lives over the past 21 months, including the latest 40 deaths reported by the state Thursday.

Vaccines are free and readily available at more than 700 pharmacies and other locations across Chicago. The city also offers free, in-home vaccination appointments. For more information, visit chicago.gov/covidvax or call (312) 746-4835.