Face time? As COVID-19 cases drop 51% in a week, Pritzker hopes to lift mask mandate ‘as soon as we possibly can’

COVID hospitalizations have also seen a sharp drop, with the 3,135 beds occupied as of Thursday night marking a 31% decline from last week and a 57% decline from the all-time records set in mid-January.

SHARE Face time? As COVID-19 cases drop 51% in a week, Pritzker hopes to lift mask mandate ‘as soon as we possibly can’
Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens during a Pullman neighborhood news conference in 2020.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens during a Pullman neighborhood news conference in 2020.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Illinois’ dramatic turnaround from the Omicron surge saw new COVID-19 cases drop more than 50% in a single week, leaving Gov. J.B. Pritzker “hopeful” about possibly loosening his indoor masking mandate — but stopping short of any firm commitment.

The state Department of Public Health on Friday reported 60,389 coronavirus cases for the past week, or an average of 8,627 per day. That’s the smallest weekly caseload since the latest highly contagious variant emerged in Illinois, a 51% nosedive compared to the previous week — and a 71% free fall from the peak of the Omicron surge shortly after New Year’s Day.

COVID hospitalizations have also seen a sharp drop, with the 3,135 beds occupied as of Thursday night marking a 31% decline from last week and a 57% decline from the all-time records set in mid-January.

And while the virus is still claiming an average of 87 Illinois lives per day, that rate has fallen about 28% in a 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.

“I’m very pleased that we were able to weather this Omicron COVID storm that came through,” Pritzker said at an unrelated Chicago news conference. “I believe that we should remove masks as soon as we possibly can. I am constantly listening to the doctors and scientists and encouraging them. … I’m very hopeful we’ll be able to make some announcements about that.”

Pritzker said his public health team will “very carefully evaluate how to keep people safe and healthy while we might bring down the mitigation levels.”

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady hinted Thursday that the city’s vaccination requirement for bar and restaurant patrons could soon be lifted if the numbers keep improving. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths among Chicagoans have all dipped more than 37% over the past week.

“When might we be able to take off masks? When might we be able to lift the vaccine requirement? Not next week, I will tell you that. But if we continue to see the drops like we’ve been dropping, it would not be that long from now,” Arwady said during an online Q&A.

While numbers have improved statewide, hospitals are still being stretched alarmingly thin in southern Illinois, where intensive care units are still at 95% capacity.

Health care workers put on personal protective equipment as patients rest nearby in the hallway at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side last month.

Health care workers put on personal protective equipment as patients rest nearby in the hallway at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side last month.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

As of Thursday night, four ICU beds were available for the entire region — which also has some of the state’s lowest vaccination rates. Less than a quarter of residents are fully vaccinated in Alexander County, on the southern tip of the state. Experts have long said such largely unvaccinated communities continue to provide fertile ground for potential new variants to surface.

Overall, about 66% of Illinois residents have completed at least their initial vaccination series and 47% have received a booster — but nearly 20% of eligible residents still haven’t gotten a single shot.

For help finding a shot, or to schedule a free in-home vaccination appointment, visit chicago.gov/covidvax or call (312) 746-4835.

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