COVID-19 case levels in Illinois stagnate, hospitalizations continue decline

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Illinois are continuing their steady decline, with 528 patients currently being treated statewide.

That's down 21.9% from a week ago, according to figures released Friday by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Of those hospitalized, 88 were in intensive care. That's a 19.4% drop from the 108 COVID-19 patients in ICU beds March 10.

Last year at this time, hospitalizations were more than double what they were Friday and the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care was almost three times higher, IDPH records show.

"We are in a much better place today for many reasons," said Dr. Kiran Joshi, colead and senior medical officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health. "The level of transmission in suburban Cook County is low and over 85% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine."

And nearly 79% of suburban Cook County is fully vaccinated. DuPage County has the highest fully vaccinated rate, according to IDPH data, at nearly 79.4%. At least 70% of the population is fully vaccinated in other suburban areas such as Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting every county in Illinois is at a low community risk level. Illinois is the only state in the Midwest to have reached that level.

The CDC's COVID-19 tracking website is experiencing technical issues and updated vaccination data wasn't immediately available.

According to IDPH vaccination records, 56,726 more doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered statewide over the past six days.

Vaccine providers in Illinois have now administered 21,273,924 doses since they became available in December 2020.

IDPH officials also reported 123 more have died of COVID-19 in the past week, bringing the state's death toll from the virus to 33,198.

Another 7,467 new cases were diagnosed as well since March 11, IDPH records show. Since the outset of the pandemic, 3,053,185 infections have been recorded statewide.

The state's seven-day case positivity rate was at 1.3% Thursday and has remained relatively stagnant over the past week. It was at 1.3% a week earlier, IDPH records show.

However, there is some concern another wave of infection is on the horizon. Europe is experiencing another surge that American public health officials are saying is caused by a lifting of mitigation restrictions there, more time spent indoors and waning natural or vaccine immunity.

"There is concern that the (new) variant of COVID-19 could cause an increase in cases in the U.S., if the variant continues to spread beyond Europe," Joshi said. "We should be concerned with all variants of COVID and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated and a booster shot."

Andy Slavitt, former head of the White House COVID-19 response team, posted a series of tweets earlier in the week warning of a potential U.S. surge this spring because of the European variant that was first detected in Denmark.

"As we have seen throughout the pandemic, the U.S. has followed Europe by several weeks in our waves of cases," Slavitt tweeted. "That may happen again here. But what happens next is going to be different in every country based on what happened this last year."

He said the omicron variant that swept through the U.S. this winter should provide a greater level of natural immunity, even in those who haven't been vaccinated.

"Those who haven't been infected but also aren't vaccinated or boosted will be at highest risk of hospitalization," he wrote.

The new European variant is a sub-variant of omicron.

Elsewhere, a rise in COVID-19 cases in Shanghai had Chinese officials imposing lockdown restrictions in parts of that massive city.

China is much quicker to impose mitigation restrictions than most other countries, public health officials acknowledge.

"We will continue to monitor the situation in suburban Cook County and overseas, and recommend appropriate, science-based public health actions as necessary," Joshi said.

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