COVID-19 restrictions may be relaxed in some Illinois regions this week


CHICAGO — Even as some states continue to see a surge in new COVID-19 infections, a post-holiday rise appears to have leveled off in Illinois, opening the possibility for qualifying regions to see a lessening of restrictions this week.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 4,776 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases Monday, as well as 53 additional deaths. While the weekly average of cases reported in the state has risen steadily since late December, it has remained near 7,000 cases for the past three days.

Compared to many U.S. states, Illinois has seen a smaller rise in the number of new Covid infections which experts attribute to holiday travel and gatherings in recent weeks.

With 55.2 cases reported per 100,000 residents over the past week according to the CDC, Illinois ranks around the middle of states, while the worst-hit areas are seeing nearly twice that amount.

As Illinois seems to have avoided a major post-holiday surge of COVID-19, Governor JB Pritzker said last week that qualifying regions could begin moving down to less-restrictive mitigation measures starting January 15.

State health officials picked January 15 because it represented one full incubation period after the New Year’s holiday, Pritzker said. As of Monday, only three regions meet the metrics for moving to “Tier 2” mitigations, although many are on the cusp of qualifying.

Illinois has seen this leveling off of new reported cases even as the number of tests performed in the state on average is rising back towards levels seen prior to the holidays.

With 66,697 new tests reported over the past 24 hours, Illinois is now averaging more than 91,000 tests over a seven-day period. This is a marked increase from the average of about 70,000 tests seen at the start of the month, but remains below the peak of more than 100,000 around Thanksgiving.

As tests rise and cases drop on average, Illinois is seeing a decline in its 7-day case positivity rate, which dropped to 7.6% as of Monday. Additionally, while test positivity rates had been rising or flat on average in most regions after the holidays, they have begun to fall again in recent days.

Hospitalizations in the state have been falling as well, with 3,540 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Sunday night, including 759 in intensive care and 401 on ventilators.

Even as the state is seeing some promising signs, Illinois continues to average more than 100 reported Covid deaths a day, higher than the peak seen in the spring.

Vaccination efforts continue across the state as well, although state data on the number distributed and administered is not readily available. Pritzker is expected to give an update on the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccinations at 2:30 p.m. Monday.

A new strain of COVID-19 first identified in the United Kingdom that’s believed to be 50% more contagious has been identified in Indiana, state health officials said Monday.

The new strain of COVID-19 has not yet been reported in Illinois, although experts have said previously it’s likely already in the state.

Indiana reported 3,726 new COVID-19 cases and 30 additional deaths Monday, while the state continues to see a decline in hospitalizations following a spike in early December.

Over the weekend, City of Chicago extended its stay-at-home advisory which calls on residents to only leave their homes for essential purposes and limit gatherings to household members only.

State limits which closed entertainment venues, bar indoor dining at bars and restaurants and limit capacities for businesses remain in effect in the city as well.

City health officials reported a 7-day average of 1,028 new COVID-19 cases and 13 deaths Monday, with a test positivity rate of 10.3%.

Thousands of Chicago Public School students are returning classrooms Monday, despite continued pushback from teachers and parents.

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