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Illinois COVID-19 cases keep rising, but hospitalization spike slows

The situation is still grim in downstate areas with lower vaccination rates. Only one ICU bed was available for the entire southern Illinois region, home to more than 400,000 residents.

Roseland Community Hospital staffers talk to a Chicago Fire Department EMT in the emergency department in April.
Roseland Community Hospital staffers talk to a Chicago Fire Department EMT in the emergency department in April.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

COVID-19 cases fueled by the raging Delta variant are still adding up across Illinois in the greatest numbers seen since last winter, but figures released by public health officials Friday suggest the state’s latest resurgence might finally be slowing down — slightly.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 30,319 coronavirus cases over the past week, including a whopping 5,980 on Friday, the most recorded in a single day since Jan. 22.

That marked an 18% increase in total cases compared to the previous week, to go along with a 23% increase in tests performed.

But the proportion of tests coming back positive declined slightly, with the seven-day average statewide case positivity rate sinking from 5.2% to 5%. That metric, which experts use to gauge how quickly the virus is spreading, has hovered around that level for three weeks.

The virus is still sending more Illinoisans to hospitals, but at a slowing pace. A total of 2,286 beds were occupied Thursday night, the most since April 19 and a net increase of 2% compared to last week. Previous week-to-week hospitalization spikes were 12%, 21% and 38%, respectively, dating back to early August.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said that’s why he thinks the state might be close to bending its fourth major curve of the pandemic.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announcing plans to open up vaccines to all Illinoisans 16 and over at a March news conference. To his left is Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker announcing plans to open up vaccines to all Illinoisans 16 and over at a March news conference. To his left is Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

“It seems like things are flattening,” Pritzker said Thursday. “We’ll watch the numbers over the next few days to see whether we can string together a week, two weeks of numbers not just flattening, but heading down.”

Average daily COVID-19 fatalities have tripled overall since the beginning of July, but that troubling growth has slowed considerably, too. The virus claimed 178 lives over the past week, a 2% increase from the previous week.

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 grim in downstate areas with lower vaccination rates. Only one intensive care unit bed was available as of Thursday night for the entire southern Illinois region, which is home to more than 400,000 residents. The regional positivity rate is 10.5%, with some county vaccination rates barely cracking 20% — and not even hitting 17% in Alexander County, the worst in the state.

Officials from the Southern Seven Health Department, which covers the southern tip of Illinois, say they’ve “been urging southern Illinoisans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, especially with the rapid spread of the Delta variant impacting neighboring states.”

About 77% of eligible residents statewide have gotten at least one shot, with 60% completing their vaccine series. Vaccine uptake has been on the rise, too, with the 185,014 shots that went into Illinois arms last week marking a 10% weekly jump.

About 71% of Chicagoans 12 or older have gotten a shot, with 65% fully vaccinated. The city’s positivity rate is 4.2%, down from 4.8% on Aug. 17. Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said she’s “really pleased with the progress.”

Meanwhile, school outbreaks are piling up as more students return to the classroom for in-person learning under an indoor masking mandate. In its weekly update, the state reported 81 school-based outbreaks, up from 26 the previous week. Ten of the outbreaks were in Cook County.

Pritzker last month issued an order for all teachers to get vaccinated along with health care and nursing home workers by Sept. 5, but he pushed back that deadline by two weeks Friday at the request of several unions.

“While hospitals and schools move forward in good faith, this extension ensures they are prepared to meet this requirement to better protect our most vulnerable residents and children who are not yet eligible to get vaccinated,” Pritzker said in a statement.

Marzetta Rush, a special education teacher at Deneen School of Excellence, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Chicago Vocational Career Academy in the Stony Island Park neighborhood in March.
Marzetta Rush, a special education teacher at Deneen School of Excellence, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Chicago Vocational Career Academy in the Stony Island Park neighborhood in March.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Heading into Labor Day weekend, the governor urged families to take COVID-19 precautions seriously when traveling or gathering.

“I also want people to just take a moment, especially when you have a breath that you can take over a holiday weekend, to just ask: What can I do to make sure I keep other people safe, or help them keep themselves safe?” Pritzker said during an unrelated news conference on Friday.

“One thing you can do is encourage others that you know, especially in your family, people you feel comfortable talking about this with, to get vaccinated. It’s a simple thing to do.”

Starting this weekend, the city is 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.