A state divided: Vaccinated areas could soon be ‘turning the corner,’ but less-inoculated southern Illinois up against the wall
Cases have been falling for two weeks across Illinois, but hospitals in the southern tip of the state are still feeling the brunt of the Delta surge. “I would encourage everybody to do the right thing,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. “Make sure you encourage your friends and family to be vaccinated.”
Statewide COVID-19 metrics took small steps in the right direction this week, but the Delta variant surge is still hammering southern Illinois hospitals, according to figures released Friday.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 25,958 new coronavirus cases over the past week, a decrease of less than half a percentage point compared to the previous week — but one that came along with a 10% increase in the number of tests performed.
It averages out to about 3,708 cases a day over the past seven days, compared to a daily average of about 3,723 a week ago.
Still, it’s the second straight week new cases have declined in Illinois, following two months of exponential increases. The seven-day average case positivity rate has fallen from 4.5% last week to 4.1%, suggesting the virus is spreading at the slowest rate seen since the end of July.
COVID-19 hospitalizations fell by 11% from a seven-month high last week of 2,346 patients down to 2,082 as of Thursday night.
But hospitals in the southern tip of the state are still being stretched to the limit as much as they have been at any point of the pandemic. Intensive care unit beds have been filled to capacity all week in the region that has the lowest vaccination rate (37%) and the highest positivity rate (10.2%) of any in Illinois.
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.
That means any of the 400,000-plus residents of southern Illinois who need critical care — even those without COVID-19, such as stroke victims and car crash survivors — could have to be sent to hospitals hours away to get the treatment they need.
The state has sent about 100 supplemental nurses and other health care workers to the 22 hospitals serving the region, and they’ve also secured federal approval for Veterans Administration hospitals to temporarily admit civilian patients.
“Although we are providing staffing and making sure that if someone does show up in a hospital that they can get cared for, that is only available to us on a limited basis for a limited period of time,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at an unrelated news conference in downstate St. Clair County, where only about 47% of residents are fully vaccinated.
“I would encourage everybody to do the right thing. Make sure you encourage your friends and family to be vaccinated. It is safe, it’s widely available, it’ll keep you healthy. And, of course, making sure that our kids are masked in schools, especially those who can’t get vaccinated, is a very important part of keeping our communities healthy.”
Almost 79% of Illinoisans 12 or older have gotten at least one shot, and a little over 61% have completed their vaccine series. About 142,000 shots went into arms over the last week, a slight decline from the previous week.
About 66% of eligible Chicagoans are fully vaccinated, while the city’s positivity rate has sunk to 3.2%.
“We’re hopefully really turning the corner here,” Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Thursday. “Bottom line is that we are doing fine compared to a lot of places, and that is because we are pretty vaccinated, [though] not vaccinated enough.”
Outbreaks at Illinois schools are still piling up, from 128 last week to 206 as of Friday, according to the state.
And COVID-19 deaths continue to mount. The virus claimed 285 lives last week, a 31% jump from the previous week. Experts say fatalities typically increase for several weeks after a case spike because it takes time for those new cases to develop into serious infections.
Nearly 1.6 million people have tested positive in Illinois since March 2020, about 12% of the population. The death toll is up to 24,546, roughly the equivalent of wiping out the entire population of suburban Elmwood Park over the course of 18 months.
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.