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Two suburban counties at ‘warning level’ as state sees nearly three-month high of new COVID-19 cases

The state is now averaging more than 1,700 new cases per day over the first two weeks of August — almost double the rate in early July — a troubling increase that has Illinois teetering back toward conditions during the peak month of May.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a news conference in Little Village last month.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a news conference in Little Village last month.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Another 2,264 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, Illinois’ largest caseload in almost three months and the third time the state has topped 2,000 daily cases over the last week.

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Friday also announced 25 more deaths attributed to the virus, raising the state’s pandemic death toll to 7,721.

And two Chicago area counties — Will and Kane — are now at the state’s “warning level” because of a combination of troubling signs, including ignoring or not understanding mask requirements.

The state is now averaging more than 1,700 new cases per day over the first two weeks of August — almost double the rate in early July — an increase that has Illinois teetering back toward conditions during the peak month of May when almost 2,200 people were infected each day.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a briefing last year.
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a briefing in March.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

“The number of cases we’re reporting each day has been increasing. The positivity rate has been increasing. These are all facts,” Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said earlier this week. “Let’s bring the numbers down by using the simple but effective tools that we do have to fight against this enemy — that includes masking, hand-washing and distancing six feet.”

Friday’s total is the highest since Illinois officials announced 2,508 new cases May 24. The most cases the case has seen in a single day was 4,014 on May 12.

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Friday’s cases were confirmed among 49,541 tests — the second-highest total ever submitted to the state — raising the state’s positivity rate over the last week to 4.1%.

The downstate Metro East region has passed a key threshold set by the state with a 8.2% positivity rate. If it stays over 8% for two more days, the state will intervene to “implement mitigation measures,” according to the health department, potentially shutting down businesses.

Chicago and suburban Cook County have held relatively steady over the last week, with positivity rates of 5.1% and 5.9%, respectively.

But two nearby counties — Will and Kane — have been branded as being at the “warning level” by the state health department due to a number of coronavirus testing and hospitalization metrics.

Ermira Sherifaj opens the diazyme machine for COVID-19 antibody testing at Simple Laboratories in Harwood Heights in April.
Ermira Sherifaj opens the diazyme machine for COVID-19 antibody testing at Simple Laboratories in Harwood Heights in April.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

They’re two of 14 “warning level” counties scattered across the state. The others are Bureau, Grundy and LaSalle in northern Illinois; Cass, Hancock, Moultrie and Greene in the central part of the state, and Clinton, Franklin, Jefferson, Perry and Union in southern Illinois.

Officials say outbreaks in the targeted counties were traced to “weddings, businesses, birthday parties, long-term care facilities and other congregate settings, bars, sports camps, and spread among members of the same household.”

Many residents there “are not wearing masks, or if they are, they are being worn incorrectly,” according to to the state health department, which blamed some local leaders for “inconsistent messaging” on masking and social distancing guidelines.

The state flagged southwest suburban Will County for two risk indicators: an increase in emergency room visits for COVID-19-like symptoms, and for a rate of 93 new cases per 100,00 residents over the last week. The target is 50 or fewer cases per 100,000.

West suburban Kane County is at 105 new cases per 100,000 residents, while seven additional COVID-19 deaths marked a second straight weekly increase of 20% or more.

A security guard stationed at the front door tells a woman to pull her face mask up over her nose before she can enter Rivers Casino in Des Plaines in July.
A security guard stationed at the front door tells a woman to pull her face mask up over her nose before she can enter Rivers Casino in Des Plaines in July.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

“It’s an opportunity for us to remind the public and local businesses that we’re a long way from this being over,” said Michael Isaacson, assistant director for community health at the Kane County Health Department. “We’re in a position where there could be restrictions on local business by the fall. That’s something we want to avoid.”

Officials say outbreaks among young people have accounted for Illinois’ case rise since early July. The state’s youngest fatality reported Friday was a Cook County woman in her 30s.

But most people who contract the virus report mild symptoms, if any, health officials have said. The recovery rate is 95%.

Harwood Heights Mayor Arlene Jezierny gets her blood drawn for a coronavirus antibody test on May 1.
Harwood Heights Mayor Arlene Jezierny gets her blood drawn for a coronavirus antibody test on May 1.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

More concerning, experts say, is the potential for young people to transmit the virus to older, more susceptible people. Nursing homes still account for most Illinois coronavirus deaths: 4,298 cases have proven fatal, among 25,869 tied to those long-term care facilities.

The latest large caseload comes a day after the state crossed the 200,000-case mark dating back to early March. That means almost 2% of the state’s 12.7 million residents have tested positive.

A total of 202,691 people have tested positive statewide, among nearly 3.3 million tested.

Another 211 deaths and 1,332 nonfatal infections are considered to have been “probable” COVID-19 cases, though those victims and patients were never tested.

As of Thursday night, 1,612 Illinois coronavirus patients were hospitalized, with 345 in intensive care units and 126 on ventilators.