Green light at the end of the tunnel? Plummeting COVID-19 metrics put Illinois on the map — to keep off the masks

“This is a pretty exciting mark,” said Dr. Kevin Smith, the chief medical officer at Loyola University Medical Center. “I think especially after dealing with the Omicron strain and really being crippled with that, we feel like we’re in a much better place in Illinois.”

SHARE Green light at the end of the tunnel? Plummeting COVID-19 metrics put Illinois on the map — to keep off the masks
Color-coded U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention map of Illinois as of March 18, 2022. Counties are designated green for low, yellow for medium and orange for high based on hospitalization and caseload metrics.

Color-coded U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention map of Illinois as of March 18, 2022. Counties are designated green for low, yellow for medium and orange for high based on hospitalization and caseload metrics.

Illinois Department of Public Health

SPRINGFIELD — Forget red or blue, Illinois is a green state as of Friday.

A day after St. Patrick’s Day, all of the state’s 102 counties are now ranked “low” for the level of recommended COVID-19 mitigations, painting the entire color-coded U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention map of Illinois a cool shade of mint green.

“This is a pretty exciting mark,” said Dr. Kevin Smith, the chief medical officer at Loyola University Medical Center. “I think especially after dealing with the Omicron strain and really being crippled with that, we feel like we’re in a much better place in Illinois.

“And I think we’re seeing that in both our case numbers as well as our hospitalizations.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 1,388 new coronavirus cases Friday, less than half the size of the daily caseloads reported just a month prior.

And just 528 hospital beds across Illinois were occupied by COVID-19 patients Thursday night, a decrease of nearly 150 beds from last Thursday and the lowest level since July 17.

The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care unit beds decreased, too, with just 88 beds filled as of Thursday night. Just 3% of the state’s total ICU beds are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Another 18 COVID-19 deaths were reported Friday, nearly a quarter of the number of deaths reported just under three weeks ago. The average seven-day statewide case positivity rate is 1.2%.

The Illinois Department of Public Health also released its weekly COVID-19 totals on Friday, reporting 7,467 new cases and 123 deaths over the previous seven days. That averages out to about 1,067 cases and 18 deaths a day.

Cases, hospitalizations and deaths have continued their steady decline after Gov. J.B. Pritzker lifted the statewide indoor mask mandate a little over two and a half weeks ago.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks to the media about the lifting of the mask mandate at Navy Pier on Feb. 28.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks to the media about the lifting of the mask mandate at Navy Pier on Feb. 28.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

The CDC updated its guidance on coronavirus mitigations three weeks ago, focusing more on what’s going on in hospitals and less on case positivity. The revised color-coded recommendations categorize COVID-19 community levels as orange for high, yellow for medium or green for low. Counties that are determined to be low have the green light to go maskless in most indoor spaces.

Earlier this week, 11 downstate counties were still at the medium level, and one in far southern Illinois still ranked high.

But as of Friday, the Illinois map was a sea of green.

That means wearing a face covering indoors isn’t recommended across the state, although they are still required on public transportation, in long-term care facilities and in health care settings.

An unmasked man and woman walk together at Navy Pier, on Feb. 28, the day the indoor mask mandate was lifted.

An unmasked man and woman walk together at Navy Pier, on Feb. 28, the day the indoor mask mandate was lifted.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

But Smith said the elderly, immunocompromised people and those who are unvaccinated should still consider wearing a mask.

“I think everybody has to look at their own personal risks based on their health conditions, and then make the best decisions after that,” he said. “This is not a virus that is going away. It’s just a virus that we’re gonna have to learn how to live with,” Smith said.

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

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