Suburban Cook County warned to wear masks, wash hands, distance — or face crackdown: ‘We are at a crossroads’

The Illinois Department of Public Health slapped the “warning level” label on 30 of the state’s 102 counties — up from 20 last week.

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle attends a news conference at Cook County Health’s Professional Building in July.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle attends a press conference at Cook County Health’s Professional Building last month.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Nearly a third of all Illinois counties, including Will and suburban Cook, are now at a COVID-19 “warning level” amid the state’s summertime coronavirus resurgence, public health officials announced Friday.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said officials aren’t scaling back business operations any further for now, “but we are at a crossroads.

“We need everyone to wear a mask, watch their distance, and wash their hands consistently to slow the spread of COVID-19 so we don’t lose the gains we have made,” Preckwinkle said in a statement.

The Illinois Department of Public Health slapped the “warning level” label on 30 of the state’s 102 counties — up from 20 last week — as officials announced an additional 2,149 new cases of the virus were confirmed statewide.

That’s the eighth time this month that 2,000 or more new cases have been logged in a single day, which hadn’t happened previously since mid-May when the state was suffering through its initial pandemic peak.

State health officials flag a warning-level county when it tabs two or more “risk indicators.” For suburban Cook, that’s because it logged new cases at a rate of 112 per 100,000 residents over the last week — more than double the state target of 50 cases —and it saw more than a 20% increase in COVID-19 deaths, 25 compared to 15 the week prior.

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Preckwinkle already tried to crack down on suburban increases earlier this month by limiting restaurant party sizes and restricting bars to outdoor service.

“We need people to follow the current guidance. If the numbers stay ‘orange’ [warning-level] or continue to worsen, we may need to implement additional restrictions, and we really don’t want to go there,” Cook County Senior Medical Officer Dr. Rachel Rubin said.

The warning level doesn’t apply to Chicago, which reported 95 cases per 100,000 residents but hasn’t yet been saddled by other coronavirus risk indicators.

A server at Poor Phil’s in Oak Park takes orders for patio dining in May.

A server at Poor Phil’s in Oak Park takes orders for patio dining in May.

Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times

Will County is still at a warning level after Gov. J.B. Pritzker banned indoor dining this week there and in Kankakee County, where the regional testing positivity rate is up to 8.4%. Kankakee is not considered to be at a warning level, though.

The other warning-level counties span the state, mostly clustered in the western and southern portions of Illinois: Bureau, Carroll, Cass, Clinton, Cumberland, Effingham, Fayette, Greene, Grundy, Henderson, Henry, Jasper, Jersey, Jo Daviess, Johnson, Madison, Monroe, Morgan, Perry, Pike, Randolph, Sangamon, Shelby, St. Clair, Union, Warren, White and Williamson.

Health officials have blamed the state’s viral rebound on weddings, travel, bars while “general transmission of the virus in the community is also increasing.”

“In some counties, local law enforcement and states’ attorneys are not enforcing important mitigation measures like social distancing and the wearing of face coverings,” the state health department said in a statement.

More than 50,000 people have tested positive statewide so far in August, compared to about 59,000 over the previous two months combined.

The latest cases were confirmed among 48,383 tests, keeping the state’s testing positivity rate over the last week at 4.1%.

With Illinois’ second wave largely being traced to young people, experts have warned it’ll lead to increased hospitalizations and a spike in deaths.

Nurse practitioner Capri Rees, left, looks at the monitor for a heart rhythm while respiratory therapist Khafran Alshahin performs chest compressions on an 80-year-old man who ultimately died from COVID-19 at Roseland Community Hospital in April of 2020.

Nurse practitioner Capri Rees, left, looks at the monitor for a heart rhythm while respiratory therapist Khafran Alshahin performs chest compressions on an 80-year-old man suffering from COVID-19 at Roseland Community Hospital in April.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Hospitals were treating the state’s highest number of intensive-care coronavirus patients in two months earlier this week, but numbers dipped slightly as of Thursday night, when 1,546 were hospitalized with 352 in ICUs and 132 on ventilators.

Rubin said young people with mild symptoms are still driving Cook County’s increase and that its hospitals have not yet seen a significant increase in admissions, which are only slightly higher now compared to the same time last year.

“It doesn’t mean that wont happen in the future,” Rubin said.

Dr. Rachel Rubin, senior medical officer and co-lead of the Cook County Department of Public Health, in July.

Dr. Rachel Rubin, senior medical officer and co-lead of the Cook County Department of Public Health, poses for a portrait in July.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Officials on Friday announced the virus has killed another 20 residents, raising the state’s death toll since March to 7,997.

At least 229,483 people have contracted the virus in Illinois among more than 3.9 million who have been tested.

An additional 209 deaths and 1,702 infections are considered to have been probable but untested cases of the respiratory disease.

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