COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Illinois are at the highest levels seen in more than six months, but the Delta variant surge might finally be leveling off, a cautiously optimistic Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday.
While deaths are still increasing from the state’s latest coronavirus spike, the average case positivity rate has held steady for about three weeks, and growth in new hospital admissions has begun to slow down.
“We all watch the numbers very closely, and when they start to flatten out, that’s always good news,” Pritzker said during an unrelated news conference in Decatur. “The fact is that I think we’ve all lived through this long enough now to not jump the gun and say, ‘Oh gosh, it’s flattened out. Everything is so much better.’ We’ve got to really see the curve heading downward. But I’m very hopeful of that.”
The numbers are still troubling compared to early summer, when most metrics had fallen to pandemic lows. Illinois has logged an average of more than 4,000 new cases each day over the last week, including 4,871 on Tuesday. That’s more than 14 times higher than the average case rate during the final week of June.
Average daily COVID-19 deaths have more than tripled since then, with about 25 Illinois lives now being lost to the virus each day.
Over the same period, the statewide positivity rate has shot up from 0.6% to 5.1%, though it’s been hovering close to 5% since early August.
And while the 2,266 coronavirus patients hospitalized Monday night marked the highest total since early February, new admissions “have been going up [by] a smaller number each day,” said Pritzker, who last week brought back a statewide indoor masking mandate amid the resurgence.
“New hospitalizations just recently started flattening, which is great, and again, I’m very hopeful, and I pray for it every day that we can head back down and [have] fewer mitigations and everybody getting back to a more normal way of life. But I do want to encourage anybody that’s not been vaccinated: Now is the time to do it.”
Nearly 77% of eligible Illinois residents have gotten a shot. That rate is about 71% for Chicagoans 12 or older.
With a citywide positivity rate of 4.3% and an average of 467 new cases per day, city Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said “we’re seeing some real flattening here,” while Delta continues tearing through less vaccinated communities across the United States.
“I think having the masks on universally indoors has really helped slow that increase,” Arwady said.
The city updated its travel advisory to include the entire nation except Vermont, and is now asking unvaccinated travelers to quarantine for at least a full week even if they have proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
A day after Chicago Public Schools students returned to classrooms for the first time in a year and a half, Arwady said she’s “really convinced that we absolutely can be in school safely,” but advised against traveling over the Labor Day holiday weekend.
“I would not recommend traveling … if you’ve got unvaccinated children, and particularly younger children. The whole country is doing really badly from a COVID perspective right now,” she said. “I know that’s hard for people, but we’re just trying to avoid infection. I think especially when we’re back in school, the bar is a little higher in terms of trying to think about limiting that risk as much as possible.”
Any Chicagoan can request an in-home vaccination by calling (312) 746-4835. For help finding a shot in suburban Cook County, visit cookcountypublichealth.org or call (833) 308-1988. To find other Illinois providers, visit coronavirus.illinois.gov or call (833) 621-1284.