Illinois COVID-19 cases rising: ‘Critically important’ for immunocompromised to get vaccinated, boosted

Coronavirus cases have increased in Chicago by 27% since last week. And for the first time in about a month, four southern Illinois counties have hit the “high transmission” threshold set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meaning masks are recommended for people gathering indoors in those downstate areas.

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A person submits a COVID-19 test earlier this year at Chicago’s federal courthouse. Cases are on the rise again in Illinois.

A person submits a COVID-19 test earlier this year at Chicago’s federal courthouse. Cases are on the rise again in Illinois.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Public health officials say it’s “critically important” for older and immunocompromised people to redouble their COVID-19 precautions as cases creep upward once again across Illinois.

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Friday reported 2,312 new infections, the state’s highest one-day case total since Feb. 26. That raised the seven-day average statewide case positivity rate to 2.1%, suggesting the virus is spreading in Illinois as widely as it has since Feb. 21.

The state has averaged 1,541 positive tests each day over the past week, a 28% jump from the previous week as the more infectious BA.2 subvariant of Omicron picks up steam nationwide.

That’s still a far cry from the height of the Omicron surge in early January, when nearly 30,000 Illinoisans were testing positive each day and positivity rates soared close to 20%. And for now, COVID hospitalizations and deaths have remained relatively low, but those typically see a corresponding uptick within a few weeks of a case rise.

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.

Either way, officials say it’s another reminder of the importance of vaccination, social distancing and, yes, masking.

For the first time in about a month — shortly after Gov. J.B. Pritzker lifted a statewide mask mandate — four southern Illinois counties have hit the “high transmission” threshold set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meaning masks are recommended for people gathering indoors in Saline, Gallatin, Hardin and Pope counties.

COVID transmission is considered low in counties marked green on this map, and high in counties marked orange.

COVID transmission is considered low in counties marked green on this map, and high in counties marked orange.

Illinois Department of Public Health

“The case rates for COVID-19 are no longer declining and are rising in some areas of the state and have plateaued in other areas over the last 2 weeks,” the state health department said in a statement.

“Given that the spread of COVID-19 is not showing signs of further waning, it is critically important that those who continue to be at high risk for serious illness take the following precautions,” officials said, listing the core tenets of pandemic protection: getting vaccinated and boosted, masking up in or avoiding crowds, sticking to well ventilated areas and washing hands frequently.

The state says it’s “strongly positioned to respond in the event of a new COVID-19 surge” with a “fully replenished” stockpile of 1.5 million rapid tests on hand and 500,000 more on the way.

Cases have been on the rise for about two weeks, a trend playing out in Chicago, too. City cases are up 27% since last week alone, with about 312 Chicagoans now testing positive each day.

But the steady rise isn’t cause for alarm, according to Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, who said Thursday the incremental increase hasn’t shown signs of a severe resurgence that could threaten the health care system.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady gives an update on COVID-19 in Chicago during a news conference at City Hall in May.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady gives an update on COVID-19 in Chicago during a news conference at City Hall in May.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file.

“With every passing day, I am more confident that, in the very short term, we will avoid a major increase like we saw with the Omicron surge,” she said, pointing to the fact that many more residents are vaccinated and boosted — and many Chicagoans acquired some level natural immunity through an Omicron infection.

The number of statewide COVID hospitalizations has hovered around 500 for the last week, while the virus has claimed an average of 10 Illinois lives per day. Both figures remain near pandemic lows, and they’re still declining in Chicago.

Nationwide studies have shown unvaccinated people are 21 times more likely to die of COVID compared to fully vaccinated and boosted people. For help finding a shot, visit chi.gov/covidvax or call (312) 746-4835.

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