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Fall forward? As Illinois COVID-19 numbers improve, ‘now is the time’ to have some fun before ‘winter bump’

As seasons change, the latest figures released by public health officials Friday show Illinois closed out its second COVID-19 summer in a more encouraging fashion than its first.

Concertgoers attend Pitchfork Music Festival earlier this month. Illinois’ COVID-19 case numbers are down to the lowest levels seen in two months.
Concertgoers attend Pitchfork Music Festival earlier this month. Illinois’ COVID-19 case numbers are down to the lowest levels seen in two months.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

Go outside and have some fun, Chicago — not only to capitalize on the fleeting days of warmth before another brutal winter, but to take advantage of a break in the COVID-19 storm.

That’s the prescription from one of Chicago’s top infectious disease specialists, who said that while she expects a seasonal bump in cases when people are forced inside, Illinois’ improving coronavirus numbers mean most residents can safely enjoy some “normal” activities right now.

“Now is the time for people who are looking to get out and do stuff, for those who have been risk-averse,” University of Chicago epidemiologist Dr. Emily Landon said Friday. “If you’re looking for a little getaway, a trip to the movie theater, some of those fun things that you might have been avoiding — now is the time.”

Unless, of course, if you’re unvaccinated.

“Then you should stay inside. There’s no getting around Delta,” Landon said, who added that masking up indoors is still an essential for all.

As leaves begin to turn, the latest figures released Friday show the state closed out its second COVID-19 summer in a more encouraging fashion than its first, as the Delta variant surge wanes.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 21,787 new cases were diagnosed over the past week, or about 3,112 per day. That marked a 16% decrease in daily infections from the previous week, and a third straight week with declining cases numbers after about two months of exponential increases.

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.

COVID-19 deaths also dipped about 16% compared to the previous week, with the virus claiming an average of 34 Illinois lives each day.

Hospitals saw an 8% decline in coronavirus patients, with 1,926 beds occupied Thursday night. Even southern Illinois — the region with the state’s highest positivity rate and lowest vaccination rate — reported a modest improvement in availability. Its intensive care unit beds were filled to capacity most of last week, forcing some patients to travel out of state for critical care, but five ICU beds were available Friday across the entire 20-county region.

But just two of those ICU beds were available for the 60,000-plus residents of the seven counties that make up the southern tip of the state.

“That’s still not a great statistic to be staring at, but our total cases have been trending down, so we’re hoping we’ll see that number of available beds trend upward here in the next week,” said Nathan Ryder, community outreach coordinator for the Southern 7 Health Department.

Statewide, the seven-day average case positivity rate has shrunk from 4.1% last week down to 2.7%, suggesting the virus is spreading at the slowest pace seen in two months.

That’s better than Illinois was doing this time last year, when the positivity rate was at 3.5% and on the rise toward the state’s worst surge of the pandemic, which peaked in mid-November.

Now, with three highly effective vaccines available and nearly 80% of eligible residents having received a dose, the threat of a winter spike still looms as more people crowd indoors, but not as greatly, Landon said.

Dr. Emily Landon of the University of Chicago.
Dr. Emily Landon of the University of Chicago.
Cortesía

“It would be overly optimistic to think there’s not going to be a winter bump. It could possibly be a big bump in some areas with low vaccination rates. We just don’t know how big it’ll be,” she said.

“It could be a major surge if the vaccines start wearing off, if a dangerous new variant emerges or something else horrible happens. But we’re heading into this winter with more protection [through vaccination].”

With flu season approaching, Landon urged residents to keep masking up, washing hands, staying home when they get sick and getting tested if they do. “Coming inside, that’s when we’re going to see large groups of people exposed,” she said.

Flu shots, like COVID-19 shots, are free and available at most pharmacies. For help finding a dose, visit coronavirus.illinois.gov or call (833) 621-1284.