Region's 22.8% infection rate well above threshold for loosening restrictions
Region's 22.8% rate of people who test positive well above threshold for loosening restrictions
One key requirement for moving to a less restrictive phase of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's economic restoration plan is 14 consecutive days of no more than 20% of COVID-19 tests being positive.
That countdown did not start on Wednesday, when the infection rate was 22.8% in the region that includes Chicago and the suburbs, according to a Daily Herald analysis of Illinois Department of Public Health infection and testing records.
The Northeast region, one of four in Illinois Pritzker announced this week that can move independently toward fewer restrictions, includes Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.
IDPH reported an infection rate for Tuesday of 19.2%.
The Northeast region has a cumulative 24.3% infection rate since the outbreak began, according to the analysis.
Using testing and infection data listed by ZIP code on the IDPH coronavirus tracking website, the analysis showed 9,338 new test results for residents in the nine-county region Wednesday. Of those tests, 2,126 were positive for the viral infection.
Residents in the Northeast region have taken 252,311 tests, and 61,317 have tested positive for infection since the outbreak began. The disease has killed 2,728 residents of the region, with Grundy County the only one in the region showing no deaths.
All of Illinois is now in Phase 2 of Pritzker's five-phase plan, which calls for face coverings, social distancing and nonessential businesses open only for curbside pickup and deliveries.
To move to Phase 3, with many businesses reopened and gatherings of up to 10 people allowed, a region also must have steady or decreasing COVID-19 hospital admissions for 28 consecutive days and must have 14% of hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators available in case of a surge in patients.
IDPH began providing those metrics late Wednesday night on the department's "Restore Illinois" website, dph.illinois.gov/restore.
Medical experts and epidemiologists are not surprised by the Northeast region's infection rate, since testing has been mostly limited to those with severe symptoms.
"There is a limitation on the resources for these tests, so every site performing these tests has to be careful about who they test," said Dr. Alvaro Candel, chairman and medical director of the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at Elmhurst Hospital. "As you can guess, when you're testing only those with severe symptoms, you're going to experience higher positive results."
Candel said testing has been stymied by a lack of materials needed to perform the tests, like swabs and chemical reagents.
Statewide, the infection rate Wednesday was 15.2%. The rate has declined significantly in the past two weeks as more testing has become available.
The daily state infection rate hovered around 23% in early April when Illinois was averaging about 6,000 tests a day. Now that the state is averaging almost 15,000 tests daily, the infection rate has dipped.
Only 2.9% of the population has been tested in the Northeast region, which has nearly 8.7 million residents, according to the analysis.
Some ZIP codes in the region have seen more widespread testing than others. Some parts of Chicago have had more than 9% of the population tested.
In the suburbs, the 60106 ZIP code based in Bensenville and 60108 ZIP code based in Bloomingdale have had more than 4% of the population tested, according to IDPH figures.
Six weeks into the statewide stay-at-home order, Pritzker has called the measure successful at slowing the spread of the disease. Many experts agree with him.
"Your susceptibility is only as good as the bubble you're putting around yourself," said Dr. Mark Steven Dworkin, professor and associate director of epidemiology at the University of Illinois-Chicago's School of Public Health. "The wearing of face coverings, good hand hygiene and social distancing is still the most effective way of preventing an individual's risk."
The other phases of the governor's plan include Phase 1, which is marked by rapid disease spread and tight restrictions. Phase 4 would allow gatherings of up to 50 people and school, child-care, restaurant and bar reopenings. Phase 5 would allow conventions, festivals and widespread reopenings with safety precautions.