Chicago moved into a “high” community level of COVID-19 Thursday evening, officials said, as the city braces for an estimated 1.4 million people to visit Chicago over Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of the summer season.
The development affects areas that include Chicago, Cook County and surrounding counties in northeastern Illinois as well as counties around Peoria, according to an emailed statement from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The counties listed at high community level are Cook, DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Will, Grundy, Boone, Lee and Winnebago in northern Illinois and Fulton, Knox, Henderson, Mason, Peoria and Tazewell in central Illinois, the statement said.
An additional 30 counties in Illinois are now rated at medium community level, according to the CDC.
But the new designation will not trigger a reinstatement of mask mandates or vaccine requirements, officials said at a news conference earlier Thursday, because the city’s health system remains “stable.” Instead, officials emphasized the importance of voluntarily wearing masks in indoor public settings again, as well as getting vaccinated and boosted.
“As we approach the summer and the long holiday weekend for Memorial Day, it’s important for our city to safely welcome visitors and reassure them, as well as our residents, that we are taking public health measures,” said Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection commissioner Kenneth Meyer. “As a doctor, I’ll just reiterate we are not reinstating the mask or vaccine requirements mandates because the health system in Chicago remains stable. However, as cases do remain high, we strongly encourage residents and visitors to wear masks. … I also encourage everyone to get vaccinated and get their booster shots as soon as possible.”
Earlier Thursday, eight other Illinois counties currently record high transmission levels, including Champaign and neighboring Ford, as well as Rockford-area counties Winnebago, Stephenson and Boone.
Chicago’s public health Commissioner Allison Arwady said the city is “pretty confident” that hospital admissions are the reason Cook County, including Chicago, is moving into the higher risk of the metric used by the CDC.
Last week, the county was at 9.8 new admissions per 100,000, the database shows. When a region gets to 10 new weekly admissions per 100,000, the CDC considers them “high risk.”
“The CDC looks at the whole health service area when they’re looking at things like hospitalizations,” Arwady said. “With the most recent updates, the city of Chicago is averaging 290 cases per 100,000. For the last seven days, anything over 200 is over goal, but you can see Cook County overall is at 367.”
The Midwest region is now among those with the highest COVID-19 cases in the country and Arwady said it was because the Midwest is doing more testing than the South and also because “we’re getting through this soft variant (of omicron) right now.”
The CDC categorizes areas as having low, medium or high community transmission levels based on case numbers, hospital admissions and inpatient bed use.
Arwady recommended that people avoid crowded indoor gatherings, get tested if they show any flu or COVID-like symptoms, and make a preventive plan of treatment with a primary doctor for immunocompromised people.
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer booster for children 5 to 11, though children in that age group are lagging overall when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations.
As cases rise, the FDA is poised to review data from Moderna and Pfizer trials on children 6 months to 5 years on June 15, a highly anticipated step toward authorizing a vaccine for the youngest and final age group.
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