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Illinois COVID-19 hospitalizations jump 35% in a week, Chicago embraces indoor masking guidelines: ‘This isn’t forever’

Daily case numbers have reached the highest levels seen in three months, and hospitals are beginning to feel the brunt of that exponential increase.

Nurse Tamara Jones puts on new personal protective equipment as she prepares to check on a patient with COVID-19 last year in the Intensive Care Unit at Roseland Community Hospital. Coronavirus hospitalizations are on the rise again across Illinois.
Nurse Tamara Jones puts on new personal protective equipment as she prepares to check on a patient with COVID-19 last year in the Intensive Care Unit at Roseland Community Hospital. Coronavirus hospitalizations are on the rise again across Illinois.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 35% across Illinois during a week that saw cases jump 46%, public health officials reported Friday.

The state averaged 1,669 new cases per day over the past week, a rate that has ballooned to a level six times higher than seen just a month ago, according to the latest figures released by the Illinois Department of Public Health. The agency reported 2,348 new cases were diagnosed Thursday, the most in a day since May 7.

City health officials said they’d adopt new indoor masking guidelines set by the US. Center for Disease Control and Prevention as cases spike in Chicago, too.

Illinois hospitals are now feeling the brunt of that spike, which experts attribute to the more infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus and its devastating spread through unvaccinated populations.

More than 900 hospital beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients across the state Thursday night, the most since early June. That number had dipped below 400 over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, the lowest mark of the pandemic.

And more of those cases are developing into severe ones. Intensive care admissions for coronavirus patients are up 24% over last week and ventilator usage is up 41%, officials said.

After more than a month of increases, the average statewide case positivity rate has held steady for three straight days, but it has soared over 9% across southern regions of the state. Chicago is up to 3% for the first time since late May.

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.

The state is still averaging about six COVID-19 deaths per day, which — like the other statewide metrics — is low compared to the peak of the crisis last year.

But any sustained move in the wrong direction is “extremely worrisome,” according to Dr. Rachel Rubin, co-lead of the Cook County Department of Public Health.

“We’re not seeing a significant number of deaths, especially compared to the same time a year ago, for sure. And this is because, generally speaking, healthier individuals are getting infected with COVID. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t spread it to somebody else that is potentially at risk for getting severe complications,” Rubin said.

Dr. Rachel Rubin in December.
Dr. Rachel Rubin in December.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

The county has adopted masking recommendations advised a day earlier by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which considers Cook to be at a “substantial” risk level for COVID-19 transmission — like the vast majority of Illinois’ 101 other counties.

The Chicago Department of Public Health said Friday it would follow the new CDC guidelines, too.

“We are taking this step to prevent further spread of the very contagious Delta variant and to protect public health,” city public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a statement. “This isn’t forever, but it is necessary to help decrease the risk for all Chicagoans right now.”

Under the guidelines, people are advised to wear a mask in indoor public places regardless of vaccination status, but “eventually we may end up having to make it a mandate,” Rubin said.

“That is the next step. That takes a little bit more time. It takes writing an official order, getting the appropriate legal backing in order to be able to do that,” she said. “It’s really a daunting task to be able to monitor all of these facilities, so we’re really hoping for appropriate community support from employers and management and workers and clients and guests in all of the open venues … to cooperate and to follow this guidance.”

More importantly, the CDC’s designation underscores the need to get more people vaccinated, Rubin said.

Just over 72% of eligible Illinoisans have gotten at least one dose, and 56% are fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates are barely half that in some downstate counties.

Any Chicagoan can request an in-home vaccination by calling (312) 746-4835.

For help finding a shot in suburban Cook County, visit cookcountypublichealth.org or call (833) 308-1988. To find other Illinois providers, visit coronavirus.illinois.gov or call (833) 621-1284.