Public health officials are now urging residents to mask themselves indoors in eight Illinois counties as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across the state – and the Chicago area is not far behind.
Boone, Lee, Stephenson, and Winnebago counties in the northwestern part of the state, along with Champaign, Ford, Peoria, go up to orange “high” on the color-coded coronavirus risk assessment system established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. and Tazewell in the Central Region.
Cook County is among 39 other counties in the state at the yellow “medium” risk level, according to the latest CDC figures released Friday, meaning masks are only recommended indoors for the elderly and immunocompromised.
But the state’s most populous county may soon find itself marked orange on the color-coded map along with most of Chicago’s collar counties.
Counties are marked yellow when they reach a weekly incidence rate of 200 or more new infections per. 100,000 inhabitants. Cook is up at 367.
Counties turn orange when hospitalization rates hit 10 or more per. 100,000 inhabitants a week. Cook is just shy of the level of 9.8. Lake, McHenry, Kane, DuPage and Will counties are also approaching the “high” level.
Mens Dr. Rachel Rubin, senior physician for the Cook County Department of Public Health, earlier this week said she felt the county was “unlikely” to reach the high threshold, Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady that she thinks it could happen next week.
“Even if Cook County moves to High as long as the health care system in Chicago remains stable, we are unlikely to automatically reinstate a mask mandate,” Arwady said in a statement. “However, we may advise high-risk individuals to consider limiting unnecessary indoor gatherings.”
Cases have been rising across the country since mid-March, or a few weeks after Governor JB Pritzker lifted his mandate for the indoor mask.
With the onset of more infectious Omicron variants of COVID-19, the average daily number of cases has multiplied by a factor of five since then, but recent figures suggest that the increase in cases may be slowing down a bit. The Illinois Department of Public Health recorded 40,193 new cases over the past week, an increase of less than half a percent from the previous week.
Overall, hospital admissions have doubled across the state since March 20, though those numbers have remained stable over the past few days with just over a thousand patients on COVID wards.
COVID deaths are close to a pandemic low with about eight lost Illinois lives a day over the past week. But they are typically a few weeks after an increase in cases.
Officials have said the state would cope with a massive increase right now if it were not for protecting vaccines. About 69% of Illinois residents have completed at least their initial vaccine series, and 52% have received a booster.
“With the number of COVID-19 cases rising across the state, the public should understand that they can intervene to protect themselves, their loved ones and friends,” said acting Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Amaal Tokars in a statement.
“Everyone should make sure they are up to date with vaccinations and booster shots. As we see movement into higher levels of societal risk, masking in indoor public spaces and avoiding crowded indoor spaces as much as possible will also make a difference.”
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