Delta blues: Variant’s spread across Illinois sparks COVID-19 infection rate rivaling days when few were vaccinated

“Turn on the TV and look what’s happening in Florida and Texas and a couple other states, even Missouri, and you can see that if you don’t take action, if you’re not acting swiftly to keep people protected in ways that you know are effective, then you’re going to fill up the hospital beds,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.

SHARE Delta blues: Variant’s spread across Illinois sparks COVID-19 infection rate rivaling days when few were vaccinated
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks about new mask mandates for schools, state employees and long term care facilities during a news conference Wednesday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks about new mask mandates for schools, state employees and long term care facilities during a news conference Wednesday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

Powered by the highly infectious Delta variant, COVID-19 is now spreading across Illinois at the fastest rate seen in over six months, according to figures released by public health officials Thursday.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 3,048 new cases of the disease — the highest daily count since early May — to raise the seven-day average statewide case positivity rate to 4.6%.

That surpasses the 4.4% positivity rate the state saw at the height of its most recent previous surge in mid-April — and it’s as high as it’s been since Jan. 26, when vaccines were still desperately scarce and the state was on the slow path down from the peak of the crisis. It’s even higher than it was this time last year (3.9% on Aug. 5, 2020), four months before any vaccines were available.

And it’s deja vu all over again for health care workers in hospital COVID-19 wards, with the state’s fourth coronavirus surge showing no sign of letting up anytime soon. More than 1,200 beds were occupied by coronavirus patients Wednesday night, the most since late May.

“The reason that we want to make sure our hospital systems have available beds is not just in case you get COVID. It’s in case you get into a car accident, or you have a heart attack or you have some other illness that overtakes you — you need a hospital bed available to you,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at an unrelated news conference at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. “We’re always concerned to make sure that our healthcare systems are available to the public.”

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.

Illinois’ metrics are still well below peak figures, but they’ve jumped exponentially since sinking to pandemic lows in mid-June. And with 14 more COVID-19 deaths reported Thursday, the state’s average daily fatality rate has increased from six to eight per day since early July.

Experts say the nationwide spike is largely the result of the more infectious Delta variant tearing through unvaccinated populations. That’s why Pritzker a day earlier issued a mask mandate for schools and long-term care facilities across Illinois, as well as a vaccination mandate for certain state workers. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White on Thursday announced his employees will have to vax up by Sept. 1 or else submit to regular testing.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other elected officials tour the state’s first large-scale community vaccination site at the Tinley Park Convention Center in late January. 

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other elected officials tour the state’s first large-scale community vaccination site at the Tinley Park Convention Center in late January.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times file

“Turn on the TV and look what’s happening in Florida and Texas and a couple other states, even Missouri, and you can see that if you don’t take action, if you’re not acting swiftly to keep people protected in ways that you know are effective, then you’re going to fill up the hospital beds,” Pritzker said.

Viral transmission is now considered substantial or high in all but five of Illinois’ 102 counties as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meaning federal officials recommend indoor mask usage across nearly the entire state.

Regional positivity rates are above 8% across the southern portion of the state, which also has some of Illinois’ lowest vaccination rates.

But numbers are rising in Chicago, too, in a way that is concentrated “very, very heavily among those who are unvaccinated,” city Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said during an online Q&A. About 69% of Chicagoans have gotten at least one shot, according to city data. Less than 0.1% of those residents have developed COVID-19, and even fewer have ended up in a hospital or worse, according to Arwady.

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, shows off her “I got my COVID-19 vaccine” sticker in January of 2021.

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, shows off her “I got my COVID-19 vaccine” sticker after receiving her second dose in January.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Statewide, 73% of residents have gotten a shot and nearly 57% are fully immunized.

“To anybody who’s not vaccinated who’s eligible to get vaccinated, I really want to encourage you to do it because, unfortunately, this variant is transmitting much faster than any previous variant,” Pritzker said. “Everything that we’re doing here is really just designed to slow the spread, to bend the curve and get us back to a more normal life.”

Chicagoans can request an in-home dose by calling (312) 746-4835. For help finding a shot in suburban Cook County, visit cookcountypublichealth.org or call (833) 308-1988. To find other Illinois providers, visit coronavirus.illinois.gov or call (833) 621-1284.

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