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Illinois Increasing COVID Testing, Vaccinations As State Hit By ‘Highest Surge In Cases’ Ever

Since Thursday, 55,958 cases have been detected in Illinois and 153 residents have died from the virus.

People, some wearing masks, pack into Daley Plaza for the annual Christkindlmarket four days before Christmas on Dec. 21, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Officials will increase vaccination and testing resources across Illinois as Illinois is hit with the “highest surge in cases” from any point throughout the pandemic, the state’s top doctor said Monday.

The number of new cases being reported daily has risen sharply, with the worsened outbreak fueled by the Omicron variant, thought to be much more contagious than past versions of the virus. And the number of people being hospitalized with the virus and dying from COVID-19 has risen, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said at a Monday news conference.

“The bottom line is the same: The cases are trending up as well as the hospitalizations. It continues to be the case that the vast, vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are among those who are not vaccinated,” Ezike said. “COVID can be prevented through vaccination.

“Testing is another critical tool in our toolbox to slow further spread of the virus and its variants.”

Ezike and Gov. JB Pritzker were joined by leaders from health systems across the state, who shared the same message: They are concerned about hospitals and health care workers being overwhelmed — and the majority of severe ill patients and people dying are unvaccinated.

Just in the past 24 hours, Illinois hospitals are dealing with 330 more COVID-19 patients than the day before, Ezike said.

Ezike said it’s too soon to tell if Omicron causes less severe illness in people than other variants, saying there have been Illinoisans hospitalized with the Omicron variant.

Getting fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot can protect people from severe illness and death, Ezike said. And wearing a mask and getting tested adds another layer of protection, she said.

Getting those shots is the No. 1 thing people should be doing to protect themselves and others, Ezike said.

“If you can significantly, drastically reduce your chance of being hospitalized or dying, why wouldn’t you avail yourself of that opportunity?” she said.

City health officials have said they expect to see a dip in cases during the holiday week, as people won’t be testing — but then they think there will be another surge as people test positive after gathering for Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve.

Ezike also said the holidays pose a risk for spread. She and Pritzker encouraged people to get vaccinated and boosted. People should avoid larger gatherings but, if they do, they should wear masks and socially distance; if they can’t do those things, they should leave, the leaders said.

“Every single event being held during this holiday season will have one or two uninvited, unwanted guests, Delta and/or Omicron,” Ezike said. “One or both could be there. And I’m not saying this to scare; I’m just saying this for people to be aware. But how we entertain that guest depends on us.

“If everyone’s wearing masks, you may not have to take that virus home. If you are boosted, you have a much lower, lower chance of being significantly ill.”

As cases have surged, testing has risen dramatically, too, with lines at testing sites going down the block and at-home tests flying off store shelves.

In response, state officials are working with local health officials to increase testing and vaccination options.

They’ll more than double personnel to help with vaccinations at local health departments, Pritzker said. Organizations that want to host a vaccination clinic with help from the state can find information online about doing so.

The state will also increase the hours its community-based testing sites are open from four days per week to six days per week, and they’ll “provide more support” to local health departments so they can increase testing, Pritzker said.

The governor did not announce any new mitigations; last week, Chicago and Cook County officials said they’ll require some businesses to check patrons’ vaccination status come Jan. 3.

Pritzker lauded those moves and called on other local governments to take safety steps that match what their communities need.

Ultimately, it is on people to get vaccinated and take precautions to protect themsleves and others, Pritzker said.

“What kind of year 2022 turns out to be depends on all of us doing what is best for all of us,” Pritzker said. “If you are unvaccinated and you get very sick, you’ll fill a bed that would have been available for your ailing spouse [or another person].

“If we are forced to move to a crisis standard of care in our hospitals, it will be because massive numbers of unvaccinated people chose to let others go without quality of care — and even more people will die.”

Vaccinations:

• In Illinois, about 7.6 million people — or 60.29 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data.

• Across the state, 49,226 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 18,985,816 vaccine doses of the 21,183,435 provided to them.

• City data shows more than 1.7 million Chicagoans — or 64 percent of all residents — are fully vaccinated, and 70.8 percent of all Chicagoans have gotten at least one shot.

Everyone 5 and older is eligible to get vaccinated in Chicago.

COVID-19 vaccinations are free and do not require insurance. Anyone can call the city’s coronavirus hotline at 312-746-4835 to get more information on how and where to get vaccinated in their community.

The numbers:

• Since Thursday, 153 Illinoisans were reported dead from COVID-19.

• At least 27,588 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 3,159 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.

• The state reported 55,958 cases since Thursday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 2,077,260.

• Since Thursday, 705,462 tests were reported statewide. In all, 43,914,913 tests have been reported in Illinois.

• Illinois’ seven-day case positivity rate was at 7.8 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was at 6.3 percent Thursday.

• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 11.7 percent. It was at 8.6 percent Thursday.

• As of Sunday night, 925 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 538 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

• In Chicago, 15 deaths were reported since Thursday. There have been at least 6,202 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of more than eight people dying per day, down 10 percent from a week prior.

• Chicago has had 16,356 confirmed cases reported since Thursday. It’s had a total of 401,586 confirmed cases. An average of 2,570 confirmed cases are being reported per day, up 129 percent from the week prior.

• Testing in Chicago is up 16 percent since a week ago.

• Chicago’s positivity rate was at 9.2 percent, up from 4.5 percent the week prior.

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