3,002 new cases: Rising virus counts, including in suburban Cook, threaten 'Bridge Phase'
New cases of COVID-19 spiked up to 3,002 Friday -- the highest since early February -- as state officials warned of a possible virus resurgence.
The news comes with 126,710 more people getting COVID-19 shots Thursday and the federal government projecting to ship nearly 1 million doses next week to Illinois.
But even as the state approaches nearly one in six Illinoisans fully vaccinated, rising numbers of cases and hospitalizations are throwing a curve at hopes of easing existing restrictions on activities and moving to a "Bridge Phase" of reopening in mid-April.
Risk factors such as more new patients in hospital beds "is very concerning to us," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at an event in Chicago.
"It makes us take a pause here to evaluate these numbers. What we want to do most of all is make sure -- is this a blip in the numbers? Is this a short surge that's taking place that will come back down? Or is this something that could have some sustaining features to it? In which case, we want to be extra careful."
Pritzker also noted he hopes to "see a significant increase" in the number of Johnson & Johnson's one-dose vaccines in coming days.
As the tally of shots in arms grows, so do cases of more infectious COVID-19 variants. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 227 COVID-19 variant infections Thursday compared to 176 Tuesday. Of those, there were 188 cases of a COVID-19 mutation originating in the United Kingdom on Thursday, in contrast with 167 Tuesday.
The state also recorded for the first time cases of a COVID-19 variant originating in California -- 27 of them.
"Viruses want to mutate. That's their way of propagating," said Dr. Gregory Huhn, infectious disease physician and COVID-19 vaccine lead for Cook County Health.
But Johnson & Johnson's vaccine, plus Pfizer's and Moderna's two-dose vaccines, are effective against variants, he said.
"It's really a race to make sure that we get as many people vaccinated as possible and protected so that these variants and mutations will eventually, over time, die off," Huhn said.
IDPH leaders singled out areas with troubling health metrics, including suburban Cook County where infections have increased by nearly 40% since last week and hospitalizations have risen for nine days, and Chicago where virus infections have almost doubled.
However, the Cook County Department of Public Health announced Friday it would ease certain restrictions on activities.
Changes include increasing outdoor dining to groups of 10 people; opening amusement parks at 25% capacity; expanding capacity to 50% or 100 people for outdoor fitness classes, meetings, social events and recreational activities, while indoor fitness classes can have the lesser of 50% or 50 people per room; and allowing seated spectator events at small venues to operate at 50% capacity with no more than 50 people, plus allowing large venues seating over 200 to operate at 25%.
Health officials are watching northwest Region 1, which includes Rockford plus Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside and Winnebago counties. That region has experienced eight days of rising hospitalizations and six days of increasing positivity rates for COVID-19 tests.
For that reason, IDPH is allowing Boone, Carroll, Lee, Ogle and Whiteside counties, which have low vaccination levels and unfilled appointments, to expand shot eligibility for people age 16 and older to ensure all doses are used up.
The state is dispatching vaccination teams to those areas.
For the rest of Illinois, the date to expand vaccinations to everyone age 16 and older remains at April 12.
Assuming shipments of vaccines hit 1 million soon, extra doses above baselines "will be allocated to high-demand areas where at-risk eligible residents face long waits for appointments," the IDPH said. That should include the suburbs where many are seeking shots.
The federal government has delivered 6,561,715 doses of vaccine to Illinois since distribution began in mid-December, and 5,281,618 shots have been administered. Since Sunday, 804,920 vaccine doses have been delivered to the state.
The seven-day average for inoculations is 99,449.
So far, 1,963,630 people -- 15.4% of the state's population -- have been fully vaccinated. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses several weeks apart.
Illinois hospitals were treating 1,302 COVID-19 patients Thursday night, the most hospitalizations since 1,353 on Feb. 26.
The state's seven-day case positivity rate is 2.9%.
Illinois has recorded 1,232,900 total cases and 21,203 deaths since the pandemic began, with 33 more deaths Friday. New cases have not topped 3,000 since Feb. 6, when 3,062 were recorded.
Labs processed 76,774 virus tests in the last 24 hours.