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Chicago and suburbs reach low risk level for COVID-19 as new cases, hospitalizations decline

Chicago Tribune - 9/25/2022

Chicago and Cook County moved from a medium to low COVID-19 community level Friday, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health. This marks the first time since early May that the area has been classified at the low level of COVID-19 impact.

“Hitting this threshold means that fewer Chicagoans are being hospitalized with COVID-19 every day,” public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a news release, while still stressing the importance of vaccines and the continued presence of the coronavirus.

As of Thursday — 2 ½ years after the initial pandemic shutdowns — the average number of new cases was 383 in Chicago, down 14% from the week prior. Of the city’s hospital beds, an average 3.6% are in use for COVID-19, down from last week’s 4.1%. And the city has averaged just one COVID-19-related death in recent days. By comparison, in the early, pre-vaccine days of the pandemic, Chicago’s loss of life related to COVID-19 peaked at around 50 deaths per day on average.

According to the CDPH, omicron subvariants make up 95% of the new cases in Chicago. This month, an updated COVID-19 vaccine designed to protect against these variants was made available to the public.

Community levels are a measure from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help communities determine what preventive measures need to be taken in an area. But the basic guidance for COVID-19 protection has not changed, which includes staying home and getting tested if you are sick and wearing a mask in crowded indoor settings.

According to the CDC, recommendations for Cook County at the low level also include wearing a mask if you are on public transportation and if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19.

Cook is one of 30 counties in Illinois that moved from a medium or high COVID-19 community level to a low level this week, a designation now shared by the whole Chicago region. Thirty-six counties in the state remain at an elevated level of COVID-19 impact, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

CDPH encourages people 12 and up to get the updated COVID-19 vaccine, known as a bivalent booster, before colder weather arrives in Chicago. When people spend more times indoors, the spread of respiratory viruses only worsens, Arwady said.

The department also encourages everyone 6 months and older to get a flu shot.

According to CDPH, 75,000 Chicagoans had received the booster as of Wednesday. The city will hold two vaccination clinics on Saturday, at Daley College and Wright College, both from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. This weekend likely marks the last opportunity to receive a $50 gift card incentive from CDPH for each dose of the COVID-19 vaccine received, the department said.

Illinois has a significant supply of the booster shots, which are especially recommended for people over 50 and people who are immunocompromised, IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra said.

More than 135,000 doses of the bivalent booster were administered across the state last week, IDPH reports.

“This is an encouraging sign as we head into the fall season and face a potential increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,” Vohra said in a news release.

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