Chicago is expected to increase to a “high” community level of COVID-19 next week as positive cases continue rising across the city and suburbs, public health officials said Friday, mirroring the surge of infections around other parts of the country.
“While we remain in medium, I expect that we will reach a high level as soon as next week given ongoing COVID trends,” Chicago’s public health Commissioner Allison Arwady said in Friday’s statement. “Even if Cook County moves to high, as long as the healthcare system in Chicago remains stable, we likely will not automatically reinstate a mask mandate. We may, however, advise high-risk people to consider limiting non-essential indoor gatherings.”
As of Thursday, eight counties in central and northern Illinois — though none in the Chicago area — met the CDC’s criteria for “high” community levels of COVID-19. The criteria include having more than 200 new cases per 100,000 residents over the previous week, 10 or more new hospital admissions for COVID-19 per 100,000 residents, and an average 10% or more staffed hospital beds occupied by patients with the virus over the previous week.
At the high community level, state and federal health officials recommend wearing masks in indoor public places, including schools, regardless of vaccination status. People who are more vulnerable to the virus, including older residents and those with compromised immune systems, are encouraged to consider avoiding nonessential indoor activities.
In the Chicago area, Cook County and all the collar counties remain at the medium level, where the CDC recommends vulnerable people mask indoors. In all, 39 of the state’s 102 counties are at the medium level, up from 23 the previous week.
Statewide, there have been 315 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over the past week, or an average of 5,742 new cases per day. The official count likely underestimates the total number of cases because home tests are not included.
Hospitalizations have been rising statewide, with the number of COVID-19 patients in Illinois hospitals surpassing 1,000 on Monday for the first time since late February. On Thursday, there were 1,060 coronavirus patients in the state’s hospitals, up from 909 a week earlier and 568 the previous month. Hospitalizations reached an all-time high of 7,380 on Jan. 12, the height of the omicron surge.
State health officials on Friday reported 11 coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the average number of deaths to eight per day over the past week. The average number of daily deaths has remained in the single digits for more than a month, the longest stretch since the pandemic began.
While Arwady had suggested earlier this month that a “high level” risk designation could trigger new mask mandates and other restrictions, this week she said that they won’t be reinstated as long as hospitalizations remain manageable and death rates low.
In the past week, an average of 1,172 Chicagoans tested positive for COVID-19, up from an average of 922 new daily cases the week before, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health. Meanwhile, hospital admissions have stayed the same the past two weeks, with an average of 18 hospitalizations a day, and deaths have averaged one to two a day, still the lowest rate of the pandemic, the statement said.
The city currently has 4.9 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 population per week and less than 4% of hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, CDPH said. For the city to consider reinstating a universal indoor mask mandate, approximately twice as many Chicagoans would need to be hospitalized.
As of Monday, all Chicago hospitals combined reported fewer than 200 hospitalized patients with confirmed COVID-19, CDPH reported, including 153 non-ICU patients and 18 ICU patients across the whole system.
In Chicago Public Schools, case numbers have been rising since students returned from spring break last month. The district reported 1,900 new student cases and 700 new adult cases last week, according to online CPS data. The case numbers are rivaling those in January during the peak of the omicron surge, when the district was reporting about 1,800 new student cases and 1,100 new adult cases a week.
As of Thursday evening, nearly 2,000 students and about 300 adults were in isolation because they tested positive for COVID-19 or in quarantine because they are an unvaccinated close contact of an infected person. In February, the district cut the quarantine and isolation period for students and staff members from 10 to five days. In March, the district dropped its universal mask mandate.
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said in Friday’s newsletter to families that the district’s regional vaccine clinics and mobile teams will begin offering booster shots to 5- to 11-year-olds next week. CPS says around half of the students in this age group who are enrolled in district-run schools have received at least one COVID-19 dose. About 42% of 5- to 11-year-olds in CPS charter schools also have had their first shot, according to district data.
While 76% of Chicagoans age 12 and up have completed their primary COVID-19 vaccine series, just 41% have also had the recommended vaccine booster, CDPH said. People age 50 and over are also eligible for a second booster, but even among Chicagoans age 65 and older, just 58% have had even one booster.
After federal officials approved a booster dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, the Illinois Department of Public Health on Friday endorsed the third shot for school-age children.
“We encourage every parent or guardian of children five and older to consider a booster vaccination for their eligible child,” Public Health Director Amaal Tokars said in a statement. “And if your children have not yet received their primary dose, it’s not too late to start now. Especially with cases rising throughout the state, everyone who is eligible for vaccination should be taking advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated and boosted. Vaccination remains the strongest way to protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19.”
Additionally, the federal government is offering a third round of free COVID-19 at-home tests for every home in the U.S., the CDPH reminded in its announcement. Each order now includes eight rapid antigen COVID-19 tests and people can order them at covid.gov/tests or by calling 1-800-232-0233.
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