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Delta’s descent? Weekly COVID-19 cases dip for first time since start of summer

The state’s case numbers took the first sustained step in the right direction since mid-June, but coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths are still rising.

A sign asking for people to wear a mask when shopping Friday at the Pitchfork Music Festival. COVID-19 cases dipped slightly in Illinois last week.
A sign asking for people to wear a mask when shopping Friday at the Pitchfork Music Festival. COVID-19 cases dipped slightly in Illinois last week.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

As Illinois’ Delta variant resurgence of COVID-19 keeps pushing some hospitals to the limit, public health officials on Friday reported the state’s first week-to-week decline in cases this summer, suggesting the latest coronavirus wave could be cresting.

A total of 26,062 Illinoisans tested positive over the last week, dipping 14% from the 30,319 residents diagnosed the previous week. That came along with a 5% decrease in the number of tests performed during a seven-day stretch including the Labor Day holiday weekend.

The average case positivity rate, which experts use to gauge how rapidly the virus is spreading, fell from 5% to 4.5%, as low as it’s been since the first week of August.

Regional rates vary, though. While Chicago is back below 4%, the southern Illinois region — which has the state’s lowest vaccination rates — is still soaring over 10%.

But taken collectively, the state’s case numbers took the first sustained step in the right direction since the third week of June, when Illinois recorded fewer than 1,700 new cases and the positivity rate bottomed out at 0.6%.

That was shortly after Gov. J.B. Pritzker allowed the state to reopen June 11. Cases have been on the rise ever since — exponentially so for most of August as Delta gripped unvaccinated communities. The dangerous variant is thought to be responsible for more than 99% of new cases.

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.

Despite the slight weekly case drop, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still considers transmission high in all 102 Illinois counties, along with nearly 94% of all counties nationwide.

School outbreaks keep piling up, too, with the state now identifying 128 clusters, up from 81 last week.

Even if the state’s surge has plateaued — as Pritzker has said he’s hopeful is the case — thousands of families will continue feeling the effects of the surge for weeks to come as hospitalizations and deaths keep rising.

Nurse Tamara Jones checks blood sugar levels for a 73-year-old woman with COVID-19 last fall in the Intensive Care Unit at Roseland Community Hospital.
Nurse Tamara Jones checks blood sugar levels for a 73-year-old woman with COVID-19 last fall in the Intensive Care Unit at Roseland Community Hospital.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Those metrics are considered “lagging indicators” of the pandemic because it takes several weeks for spiking cases to deteriorate into more serious infections, meaning those figures are likely to keep going up even as cases go down.

Illinois hospitals are indeed still filling but at a slowing pace. The 2,346 beds occupied by coronavirus patients Thursday night were the most since Feb. 2, marking a 3% increase since last week. Only five intensive care unit beds were available for all of southern Illinois Friday, but that’s actually a slight improvement from the single ICU bed open last week.

Deaths remain on an upward trend, too. The virus claimed 197 lives last week, an 11% jump from the previous week. More than 7,800 Illinois lives have been lost to COVID-19 so far this year. About 96% of those victims were unvaccinated.

About 22% of eligible Illinois residents have yet to get a shot. Almost 61% of residents 12 or older are fully vaccinated.

At an unrelated news conference in downstate Montgomery County — where just 42% of residents are fully vaccinated — Pritzker said he supports President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal employees and large employers.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a news conference at the Thompson Center last month.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a news conference at the Thompson Center last month.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

“We’ve got a lot of challenges today with the number of people that are unvaccinated who could be vaccinated,” he said. “I’ve taken steps incrementally across our population with teachers and with those who are serving the most vulnerable to make sure that they’re getting vaccinated.

“I do believe everybody should go get the vaccine. I think anything we do to encourage that, to push that, is helpful.”

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.

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.