Delta dawn? Variant cases creep up as 13 Illinois counties hit COVID-19 warning level
Average daily cases have jumped more than 50% and the Delta variant is accounting for more of them, data shows.
Thirteen downstate counties have hit a coronavirus warning level as Illinois weathers a “small” surge in cases, especially in less vaccinated areas, according to the latest pandemic figures released Friday.
Infections are rising across the state, though, as officials identify more cases of the dangerous Delta variant of COVID-19.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 4,449 total cases were diagnosed over the past week, including 861 on Thursday — the highest count of daily infections reported since late May.
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The state is now averaging about 636 new cases per day, an increase of 51% compared to the previous week. It’s still a far cry from the height of the crisis in mid-November, when the state was logging about that many cases every hour.
Meanwhile, the average statewide positivity rate has more than tripled since June 25 to 1.9% — still quite low compared to the double-digit rates Illinois saw last fall.
Delta cases are making up a greater share of the rising infections. Officials have now identified 365 cases of the more infectious mutation, accounting for about 3.5% of all Illinois cases tied to “variants of concern.” That ratio was only 1.1% at the beginning of the month.
Since only a tiny fraction of positive cases are analyzed, experts presume the actual number of Delta cases is in the thousands.
“It’s a small proportion, and we’re seeing it double about every one to two weeks,” said Dr. Kiran Joshi, co-lead of the Cook County Department of Public Health.
Contraction of the Delta variant — which is still overwhelmingly preventable through vaccination — is thought to be a key driver of massive resurgence occurring in Missouri, one of America’s least vaccinated states. Four of Illinois’ 13 “warning level” counties border it.
Only eight of Illinois’ 102 counties were flagged last week due to two or more metrics moving in the wrong direction. Before that, it had been at least a month since any county hit the warning level.
The positivity rate is nearing 8% in the Metro East region near St. Louis. Before the state reopened in June, that would have prompted Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s health team to consider possible business restrictions and capacity limits in those downstate counties, but that’s not happening any time soon.
“Currently there is no plan to implement any additional statewide mitigations now that there is an abundance of vaccine available and accessible across Illinois, but local municipalities continue to have the ability to put more stringent mitigations in place in their communities,” a spokesperson for the state public health department said in an email.
“We encourage all Illinoisans ages 12+ to get vaccinated as soon as possible. The COVID-19 vaccines are a proven and effective measure of protection against a deadly virus that has taken the lives of thousands of Illinoisans.”
COVID-19 vaccine doses administered by day
Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times
Source: Illinois Department of Public Health
Graph not displaying properly? Click here.
The state lost an average of nine lives to the virus each day over the past week, a rate that hasn’t changed much in a month. But experts say the pandemic follows a predictable pattern of rising cases that lead to increased hospitalizations, which result in more deaths — and hospitalizations are inching up. Wednesday marked the state’s first night since mid-June that more than 500 beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients.
About 71% of eligible Illinoisans have gotten a shot, with 55% fully vaccinated. None of the state’s 13 “warning level” counties is more than 44% fully vaccinated, and two of them are below 30% (Edwards and Massac).
That’s why there’s no cause for alarm for residents who have already rolled up a sleeve, according to Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, who called the statewide surge “a small one.”
“There are whole counties far downstate that are less vaccinated than even our least vaccinated areas in Chicago. And when you have the Delta variant, which is more contagious and can spread more easily, it’s not unexpected to see some of this increase.”
Nearly 1.4 million residents have been infected over the past 16 months, and 23,537 of them have died.
Free in-home vaccination appointments are available to all Chicago residents by calling (312) 746-4835.