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Illinois COVID-19 cases hit seven-month high: ‘We are living in a very dangerous moment’

About 63% of eligible Chicagoans are fully vaccinated, but rates hover in the 20% range in many southern Illinois counties where hospitals are filling up. A total of 126 Illinois lives were lost to the virus over the last week, including 46 on Wednesday — the highest one-day toll in three months. 

People exit Mariano’s in the Roscoe Village neighborhood last week.
People exit Mariano’s in the Roscoe Village neighborhood, Friday morning, Aug. 20, 2021. An indoor mask mandate for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people two years old or older took effect again on Friday to stop the spread of COVID-19 as cases rise due to the Delta variant.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Illinois COVID-19 cases on Friday reached the highest level seen in seven months as the Delta variant races through unvaccinated communities and pushes some hospitals to the limit.

The 4,904 new infections reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health were the most logged in a day since Jan. 23, and viral transmission is now considered high in all 102 counties, according to metrics set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hospitals statewide were treating 2,000 coronavirus patients Thursday night, the most since early May. Intensive care wards were 95% full in the southern tip of the state, with just four beds available for the entire region, home to more than 400,000 Illinoisans.

“We are living in a very dangerous moment of coronavirus and upswing of the Delta variant across the nation and here in Illinois,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at an unrelated news conference.

The state is now averaging more than 3,500 new cases every day over the past week, a rate that has jumped 16% compared to the previous week — and multiplied by eight since early July.

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.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have soared 21% in the past week and quadrupled since July 9, while deaths increased 37% last week and have more than doubled over the last month and a half. A total of 126 Illinois lives were lost to the virus over the last week, including 46 on Wednesday — the highest one-day toll in three months.

With 75% of residents 12 or older having received at least one vaccine dose and 58% fully immunized, officials have said the surge in cases is overwhelmingly concentrated in areas with lower vaccination rates.

Among the more than 500,000 cases that have piled up in the state this year, only 1,056 breakthrough infections have sent people to hospitals. About 97% of Illinois COVID-19 deaths since the vaccines were introduced have been among the unvaccinated. Vaccinated Chicagoans account for barely .01% of city cases that have required hospitalization.

About 63% of eligible Chicagoans are fully vaccinated, but rates hover in the 20% range in many southern Illinois counties where hospitals are filling up. Not even 16% of residents are fully vaccinated in Alexander County, the southernmost tip of the state.

Southern Illinois Healthcare, which operates four hospitals among other care centers in the region, said “a very large majority” of their latest admissions are unvaccinated, as the system is “climbing fast almost back to peak levels.”

Cases have been rising since mid-June, shortly after Pritzker allowed the state to fully reopen. He has issued an indoor mask mandate for all students and school workers heading back to classrooms for in-person learning, but otherwise has steered clear of additional statewide COVID-19 mitigations with cases surging.

The governor said he has “not been reticent to act when I think it’s appropriate to do so on mitigations” but applauded Chicago and other municipalities that have issued their own local mask mandates and other COVID-19 precautions.

On Friday, officials in suburban Cook County announced an indoor mask mandate will go into effect starting Monday, while county board President Toni Preckwinkle announced workers in her office will have to get vaccinated by Oct. 15.

“I encourage those local community leaders to do so — indeed, I have celebrated those people throughout the last year and a half because very few, frankly, local leaders, very few elected leaders have been willing to stand up and make tough decisions for their communities. I mean, it’s about time for some of them, but I want to congratulate folks who actually already do that,” Pritzker said.

The governor urged residents to “follow the science.”

“If you wear a mask and you get vaccinated, you’re pretty safe. … I will take action if we see that the numbers move up in an exponential fashion — which they’re not there — but in an exponential fashion, that’s something that we’ll look very closely at.”