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Chicago ‘coming down the other side’ of Delta surge as Illinois numbers improve

The city also removed California and Puerto Rico from its quarantine advisory for unvaccinated travelers.

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine earlier this summer in Chinatown. Illinois’ average case positivity rate is down to the lowest level seen in two months.
A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine earlier this summer in Chinatown. Illinois’ average case positivity rate is down to the lowest level seen in two months.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Illinois’ latest COVID-19 numbers suggest most of the state may have gotten through the worst of the Delta variant storm — for now — but downstate hospitals are still being stretched thin.

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Tuesday reported 3,002 new cases of the disease were diagnosed among almost 74,000 tests, lowering the average statewide case positivity rate to 3.4%, its lowest point since late July.

After two months of exponential increases, daily caseloads now have been on the decline since Labor Day weekend. New hospital admissions have trended downward, too, with the 2,039 COVID-19 patients hospitalized Monday night marking a 10% decrease since last week.

In Chicago, the improvement has been even more pronounced. The city’s positivity rate is down to 3%, with average daily cases down 8% since last week and hospital admissions down 50%.

“We really are looking like we’re coming down the other side of this,” city Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. “Broadly, things are going quite well, honestly, in Chicago at this point.”

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.

The situation is still far worse in southern Illinois, but even that region — the least vaccinated in the state — is seeing marginal improvement. Two intensive care unit hospital beds were available for the region’s 400,000-plus residents Monday night following an entire week of operating at full capacity, which had forced hospitals to divert some patients as far away as St. Louis or Nashville to receive critical care.

Southern Illinois’ regional positivity rate also dipped below 10% Tuesday for the first time since mid-August. Only about 37% of eligible residents in the region are fully vaccinated, compared to about 62% statewide. In Chicago, it’s 66%.

The nation as a whole is “still not doing very well” in containing the Delta variant surge, Arwady said. The city updated its travel quarantine advisory for unvaccinated people to remove California and Puerto Rico, where case numbers have improved, but nonessential travel is still discouraged across the rest of the country.

While coronavirus deaths remain on the rise in Illinois, experts say that’s to be expected because it takes several weeks for ballooning cases to develop into fatal infections. The state reported 23 more deaths Tuesday, while the virus has claimed an average of 37 Illinois lives each day over the past week.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady discusses the return to an indoor mask mandate in August.
Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady discusses the return to an indoor mask mandate in August.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

As officials urge unvaccinated residents to finally roll up a sleeve, they’re also reminding people sign up for a flu shot early this fall.

“Flu vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines can be given at the same time if you haven’t already gotten your COVID-19 vaccine,” Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “Vaccines are our best protection against severe illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths due to either flu or COVID-19.”

For help finding a shot, visit coronavirus.illinois.gov or call (833) 621-1284.