Pritzker: State 'in a good place' with COVID-19 subvariant, but it's closely monitoring trends

With about 25% of new COVID-19 cases in Illinois linked to a highly infectious strain of the virus, health experts are "closely watching" trends although the state is still "in a good place," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday.

He urged school districts to ensure they have robust COVID-19 testing in place in case of a surge.

The BA.2 subvariant of omicron is "30% to 50% more transmissible than the original and is causing surges in some places around the world," Pritzker noted at an event in Chicago.

"To be clear ... the number of admissions and COVID patients in hospitals across the state continues to stabilize and drop. The virus is very much still here and with us. It's not going away. But with vaccines, the existing variants (are) manageable."

Pritzker added, "With cases low and hospitalizations low, this gives us time to be prepared for a potential next wave if it should happen. The state stockpile is nearly fully replenished; we have more than 1.5 million rapid tests on hand with half a million more (arriving) in the coming weeks."

"I'm also calling on all schools to consider their current testing capacity and make sure that they're prepared with a strong testing plan in place if we experience another surge."

He noted that "an estimated 25% of current cases in Illinois are from that BA.2 subvariant, and although that percentage is steadily rising, we have not seen a commensurate rise in cases or hospitalizations."

On Monday, new cases of COVID-19 totaled 753 compared to the seven-day average of 1,085 per day. the Illinois Department of Public Health reported.

There were no deaths reported although the seven-day average is 16.

Patients in the hospital with COVID-19 came to 529 as of Sunday night, lower than the seven-day average of nearly 536 per day.

Pritzker said BA.2 was detected in Illinois in January. Already it's the predominant strain in a number of countries such as South Africa and Denmark; currently it makes up about 23% of U.S. COVID-19 cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Cook County Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Sharon Welbel told the Daily Herald recently that "there's really no evidence yet to say (BA.2) causes more severe disease, and that's the good thing. It also looks like our vaccines seem to have a similar level of protection to this variant of concern" as they do to the original.

As with typical omicron infections, "we see more virus in the upper respiratory tract than the lower respiratory tract, so therefore much less pneumonia," added Welbel, Cook County Health's director of hospital epidemiology and infection control.

BA.2 is also referred to as "stealth" omicron because it's harder to detect than the original and requires an extra genomic sequencing step.

The state's positivity rate for COVID-19 cases is 1.3% based on a seven-day average.

So far, 8,616,917 Illinoisans have been fully vaccinated, or 68% of the state's 12.7 million population, the CDC reported. The agency defines fully vaccinated as two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson's.

Of those people who are fully vaccinated, nearly 50% have received a booster shot.

Total cases statewide stand at 3,055,636 and 33,216 Illinoisans have died since the pandemic began.

Labs processed 49,979 virus tests in the last 24 hours.

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

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