Mask-optional policies questioned as children and teens lead in new Illinois COVID-19 cases
Children and teenagers represent the lion's share of new COVID-19 cases, Illinois Department of Public Health data showed Monday.
Since Jan. 3, the state has reported 217,731 new COVID-19 infections among ages 19 and younger, contrasted with 121,301 cases in people in their 20s, the second-highest demographic. Younger Illinoisans also comprise the largest rate of increase in cases since Jan. 3, at about 48% compared to other cohorts.
That's all the more reason to be cautious about dropping face mask policies in schools, health experts say. Numerous school districts are diverging on whether masks are required or optional amid a legal battle challenging the state's mandate that erupted after a judge issued a temporary restraining order Feb. 4.
"I think that there will be spots of increasing rates of COVID due to taking masks off with kids and depending on what the testing policy is and other mitigation measures," said Dr. Sharon Welbel, director of hospital epidemiology and infection control for Cook County Health.
Welbel noted that COVID-19 metrics are still high thanks to a surge in cases caused by the COVID-19 omicron variant compared to the summer, even though they've lessened significantly.
"I feel we could all be a little bit more patient. I know there are so many more factors -- economic, political and psychosocial. But coming from my perspective as an epidemiologist and infectious disease physician, I would like to see the mask mandates continue," Welbel said. "I feel we're not ready for this."
Parents opposing the mandates say masks should be a choice, not a requirement, for students.
Illinois' total COVID-19 case count surpassed 3 million Monday, the IDPH reported.
The sobering benchmark comes amid hospitalizations falling below 2,000 for the first time since Thanksgiving. Patients in the hospital with COVID-19 came to 1,811 as of Sunday night, lower than the seven-day average of 2,222.
New cases of COVID-19 totaled 14,269 over the long weekend, and 224 more people died from the respiratory disease, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported.
From Thursday to Sunday, 91,464 more COVID-19 shots were administered. The seven-day average is 24,116.
The state's positivity rate for COVID-19 cases is 3.3% based on a seven-day average.
So far, 8,467,789 Illinoisans have been fully vaccinated, or 66.8% of the state's 12.7 million population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The CDC 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, 48.5% have received a booster shot.
Total cases statewide stand at 3,001,771, and 32,019 Illinoisans have died since the pandemic began.
The federal government has delivered 23,448,145 doses of vaccine to Illinois since distribution began in mid-December 2020, and 20,894,572 shots have been administered.
Labs processed 83,923 virus tests in the last 24 hours.
The state does not update data on weekends or holidays including Lincoln's Birthday.