Illinois COVID-19 free fall still on as masks come off

Average daily cases fell 20% statewide in the days after Gov. J.B. Pritzker lifted the indoor mask mandate.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker adjusts his face mask as he speaks during a news conference last summer. COVID-19 metrics remained low in Illinois during the first week since Pritzker lifted his indoor mask mandate.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker adjusts his face mask as he speaks during a news conference last summer. COVID-19 metrics remained low in Illinois during the first week since Pritzker lifted his indoor mask mandate.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A week of bare faces hasn’t put the brakes on Illinois’ COVID-19 slowdown.

Figures released Friday show coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths continued their steady decline after Gov. J.B. Pritzker lifted his statewide indoor mask mandate, with most metrics at the lowest levels seen since last summer.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 10,462 cases for the week dating back to Feb. 25, or three days before the mandate expired. That’s an average of 1,495 cases per day — and a 20% decrease in infections compared to the previous week.

Hospitals reported 843 beds occupied by COVID-positive patients as of Thursday night, a 26% drop in a week — and the lowest number of nightly admissions since July 26.

The virus is still claiming an average of 39 Illinois lives every day, but that rate fell about 23% since last week, too. And the average seven-day statewide positivity rate is down to 1.4%, the lowest seen since the first week of July.

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It’s still too early to say whether the lifting of the mask mandate is affecting case numbers. Experts have long said it takes at least one incubation period — about two weeks — for any potential effects to show up in the numbers.

But the latest metrics still reflect a staggering decline in COVID-19 that has matched the meteoric rise of the Omicron variant wave that peaked after the holidays. Since Jan. 14, cases have plummeted by 95%, hospitalizations by 88% and deaths by 63%.

Masks are still recommended in areas where transmission is considered high, under new guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That label now applies to only six counties in southern Illinois, down from 21 last week. Transmission is considered low across all of northern Illinois.

“We are at a stage in this pandemic where we have more tools than ever before to help prevent severe illness due to COVID-19, including safe and effective vaccines and new treatments,” outgoing Illinois Public Health Director Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement.

“With almost half of the entire Illinois population not only vaccinated, but boosted and up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines, as well as high levels of population immunity from both vaccination and infections, the risk of outbreaks causing severe illness is reduced.”

More than 3 million cases have been confirmed statewide over the past two years, leaving 32,926 dead. About 72% of residents have at least completed their initial vaccine series — but 19% have yet to get a single shot.

For help finding one, visitchicago.gov/covidvax or call (312) 746-4835.

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