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Illinois obliterates daily COVID-19 case record with more than 30K positive tests

With cases, hospitalizations and deaths rising rapidly, officials are urging more residents to get vaccinated and boosted.

People wait in line for COVID-19 tests at 1169 W. 18th St. in Pilsen Wednesday. More people are testing positive each day in Illinois than ever before.
People wait in line for COVID-19 tests Wednesday at 1169 W. 18th St. in Pilsen. More people are testing positive each day in Illinois than ever before.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Public health officials on Thursday announced a staggering 30,386 new COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed statewide as the Omicron variant fuels Illinois’ largest-ever spike in positive tests.

The latest count shatters by more than 9,000 the previous state record set on Christmas Eve when more than 21,000 infections were diagnosed — and it nearly doubles the high-water mark of last fall’s surge, which had been the biggest of the pandemic.

Officials have urged residents to get fully vaccinated and boosted as the state’s hospitals face their greatest burden since Dec. 1, 2020, before any vaccines were available. Coronavirus patients were occupying 5,689 hospital beds statewide Wednesday night — nearly all of them unvaccinated, officials say. That marked a net increase of 218 patients in one day.

COVID-19 deaths are mounting as well, with 87 more confirmed Thursday. Illinois has averaged 55 deaths per day over the last week, a rate that has more than tripled in a month.

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 has more than doubled to 10.2% over the past two weeks, and the rise has been even more pronounced in Chicago, where the regional positivity rate has soared to 16.7% with an average of 3,772 new cases diagnosed daily.

“All of this is due to Omicron,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said of the highly infectious variant during a livestreamed Q&A.

Arwady tempered concern over the eye-popping numbers by noting the city is seeing “many more breakthrough cases” that result in less severe sickness.

“The reason I am not completely freaking out, honestly, about these COVID numbers and what they’re doing to our hospital capacity at this point is because … I am very reassured that the vaccine continues to protect really well against severe illness,” she said.

“I remain very worried about this steep increase that we’re seeing, especially in the unvaccinated, and of course I’m worried for the people who are vaccinated and boosted who are … still getting sick and getting admitted,” Arwady said. “But the most important thing for us to prevent deaths, prevent hospitalizations and protect our healthcare system is to have fewer people in that red category [of] unvaccinated Chicagoans.”

Of about 8 million Illinoisans who have completed their initial vaccine series, only 0.075% have ended up in a hospital, and 0.020% have died of COVID-19, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. An even tinier fraction of the roughly 3 million residents who have received boosters have suffered severe outcomes.

“Most of the people right now in Chicago in the hospital with COVID have the Omicron variant and remain unvaccinated,” Arwady said. “This growth that we are seeing in Omicron is in unvaccinated Chicagoans, nearly all of the increase.”

About 24% of Chicagoans have yet to get a shot. Cases are especially high in ZIP codes with lower vaccination rates — areas that are concentrated on the South and West sides, according to city data.

Vaccines are free at pharmacies nationwide, and the city also offers free in-home vaccination appointments. For more information, visit chicago.gov/covidvax or call (312) 746-4835.