Four more Illinois counties hit high level for COVID-19 transmission, but cases ‘begin to trend downward’

But hospitalizations are still about as high as they’ve been since February, with more than 1,200 beds occupied as of Thursday night.

SHARE Four more Illinois counties hit high level for COVID-19 transmission, but cases ‘begin to trend downward’
Medical assistant Tyla Wilson collects a nasopharyngeal swab sample to test for COVID-19 for 15-year-old Brianna Green at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side, Wednesday morning, Jan. 5, 2022.

Medical assistant Tyla Wilson collects a nasopharyngeal swab sample to test for COVID-19 for 15-year-old Brianna Green at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side, Wednesday morning, Jan. 5, 2022.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Even more of the state map has gone orange due to high COVID-19 transmission, but Illinois’ latest viral wave might be showing signs of slowing down.

Nineteen counties have passed the threshold for “high” transmission on the color-coded risk rating system kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up from 15 a week ago. That still includes almost the entire Chicago area, with masks urged for anyone in public indoor settings in Cook, DuPage, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.

Those ratings are determined by hospital admissions, which remain at a three-month high in the state, and case rates — which have dropped about 12% since last week and 19% since May 20, according to figures released Friday by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“We are seeing total case counts plateau and begin to trend downward in the last two weeks and this is positive news,” an agency spokesman said in an email. “However, with 50 Illinois counties at either High or Medium Community Level, it is too soon for people to let their guard down.”

On top of the 19 high-level transmission counties, 31 are at medium transmission, meaning masks are advised indoors for those who are older or immunocompromised.

By the CDC’s calculation, counties move from the green level of “low” to yellow “medium” transmission if they record a weekly case rate of 200 or more new infections per 100,000 residents.

COVID-19 transmission is considered high in counties marked orange and medium in those marked yellow.

COVID-19 transmission is considered high in counties marked orange and medium in those marked yellow.

Illinois Department of Public Health

Chicago and the rest of Cook County hit that threshold in late April, and then moved up to “high” transmission last week when the weekly hospital admission rate surpassed 10 per 100,000 residents.

Cook County’s case rate, which soared to 367 in mid-May, is down to about 270 — a 26% drop in two weeks. The hospital admission rate is still at 11.

Statewide, an average of more than 4,600 residents tested positive each day over the past week, down from a rate of more than 5,700 in the week that ended May 20.

But hospitalizations — which typically lag a couple of weeks behind case surges, a pattern that has played out several times since March of 2020 — are still about as high as they’ve been since February, back when the state was still recovering from the initial Omicron variant resurgence.

More than 1,200 beds have been occupied by COVID patients statewide for each of the last three nights, the most reported since Feb. 21. In January, when hospitals were stretched thinner than they’ve been at any other point in the pandemic, more than 7,300 beds were filled.

Deaths, the final lagging indicator of the pandemic, remain near a pandemic low for Illinois, with about seven residents lost to the virus each day over the last week. But the 22 deaths reported by the state Wednesday were the most in a single day since April 5.

Vaccines have proven highly effective at preventing severe cases. About 69% of Illinoisans have completed at least their initial vaccine series, and about 52% are up to date with boosters.

“We continue to urge everyone to remain up-to-date with vaccines and booster shots,” state health officials said. “In areas with elevated community levels, we encourage people to wear a mask in indoor public spaces and avoid indoor crowded spaces as much as possible. If we all follow these common sense precautions, we expect the numbers to continue to trend downward.”

For help finding a shot, visit vaccines.gov.

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