Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday said he’s “pleased” with the way the state’s surging COVID-19 numbers are flattening out, though the situation remains dire in southern Illinois — where intensive care hospital wards have filled to capacity.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 4,660 new coronavirus cases, keeping the average statewide positivity rate at 4.5%. That metric has hovered around that level for almost two weeks, suggesting Illinois’ exponential growth in transmission with the Delta variant since mid-summer has slowed down.
Hospitals across the state were treating 2,263 COVID-19 patients Monday night, down slightly from a seven-month high of 2,346 last week.
“They’ve subsided a little, they’ve flattened a bit, not the case numbers necessarily, but the hospitalizations, and so I’m pleased about that,” Pritzker said at an unrelated news conference in Aurora. “But until they start to come down the other side of this, we can’t lighten up on our mitigations, because, once again, we’re trying to defeat this so that people can go about their daily lives.”
It’s worse in 20 counties spanning the southern tip of the state. All 88 ICU hospital beds were occupied Monday night for a region that’s home to more than 400,000 residents and that has a testing positivity rate of 10.3%.
“We’re chugging through some pretty bad days here,” said Nathan Ryder, community outreach coordinator for the Southern 7 Health Department, which covers Illinois’ seven southernmost counties. “It looked like it was leveling off the last couple of days, but now we’re facing a pretty scary number.”
The state deployed a team of critical care nurses to the region last week when it was down to one or two available ICU beds per night, Ryder said, to open up about 10 additional beds.
“Even with that help, we still don’t have the capacity,” he said. “If you’re in a motor vehicle accident, or you’re having a cardiac trauma, a stroke — those are people who need ICU beds. At this point, if you encounter that, you’re probably looking at getting shipped off to St. Louis or Nashville. That’s an incredible strain on the patient and their loved ones.”
The region also has some of the lowest vaccination rates in Illinois — all the way down to Alexander County, where not even 17% of residents are fully vaccinated, the lowest in the state.
Southern Illinois Healthcare reported that of 66 COVID-19 patients being treated at its four hospitals Tuesday, 59 were unvaccinated. Fifteen were receiving intensive care, and 14 were using ventilators — all unvaccinated.
Statewide, 78% of residents 12 or older have gotten a shot, and 61% have completed their vaccine series.
Chicago’s regional positivity rate is down to 3.5%, as about 72% of eligible residents have gotten at least one shot. More than 100 ICU beds were available in the city.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still considers transmission high across the entire state, as it does across more than 93% of counties nationwide. That’s actually a slight improvement over the 95%-plus U.S. counties rated “high transmission” last week by the CDC.
The marginal improvement was reflected in Chicago’s quarantine advisory for unvaccinated travelers, which officials updated Tuesday to remove Connecticut and Washington, D.C., as hot spots. The entire country was on the city’s list a week ago.
Meanwhile, Illinois COVID-19 deaths are adding up at the fastest rate seen — 40 per day over the last week — since late February. Experts say that’s because fatalities are a “lagging indicator” of the pandemic; it takes weeks for growing cases to deteriorate into more serious infections ending in tragedy.
The state reported 71 COVID-19 deaths Saturday, the worst for Illinois since Feb. 18. The virus has now claimed 24,407 Illinois lives over the past year and a half.
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.