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Lowest positive COVID-19 test rate since July ‘definitely encouraging,’ but officials warn to stay masked, socially distant

Illinois public health officials on Monday reported 1,373 new COVID-19 cases and a seven-day positivity rate of 3.6%. The coronavirus also claimed five more lives.

Phlebotomist Crystal Bovan collects a nasopharyngeal swab sample to test for the coronavirus at a drive-thru testing site in the parking lot of St. Rosalie Catholic Parish in Harwood Heights, Chicago in May.
Phlebotomist Crystal Bovan, with Simple Laboratories, collects a nasopharyngeal swab sample to test for the coronavirus for a woman at the lab’s drive-thru testing site in Harwood Heights in May.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times file.

Illinois public health officials on Monday reported 1,373 new COVID-19 cases and a seven-day positivity rate of 3.6% — the lowest the main metric used to measure the spread of the virus has been in more than seven weeks.

The rolling positivity rate has not been lower since July 25, when the metric dipped to 3.56%. The seven-day average rate of tests that come back positive is the figure experts rely on to gauge how rapidly the virus is spreading.

Monday’s results were based on 35,930 test specimens processed by laboratories.

The coronavirus also claimed five more lives, the Illinois Public Health Department announced.

“Any time we see the positivity rate go down, it’s definitely encouraging,” said department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold. “But until we have a vaccine, we have to keep up with what works: wearing masks and social distancing.”

The daily case count has been a roller coaster of ups and downs recently, which has kept the month’s averages high.

For the first two weeks of September, the daily average of new cases is 1,980, edging closer to the roughly 2,100 a day in the peak month of May, and up from August’s daily average of 1,812 and July’s 1,150. During that same two-week period this month, the state was averaging 21 deaths a day, up from 17 in August and 19 in July, but down sharply from 51 in June.

Ten days ago, the state saw its highest daily caseload ever — 5,368, a figure officials said was inflated by a backlog in the coronavirus test reporting system. Since then, the daily figures have see-sawed between caseloads near or exceeding 2,000 and those in the 1,400 range.

As of Monday, the state had reported a total of 262,744 cases and 8,314 deaths. Altogether, 1,431 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, 335 of them in intensive care and 131 on ventilators.

Contributing: Caroline Hurley