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Illinois sets record for daily coronavirus cases and surpasses 2 million infections since pandemic began

Chicago Tribune 12/22/2021 Dan Petrella, Chicago Tribune
Rosita Palomo preps Antonio Perez-Sanchez, right, for his COVID-19 vaccine at the Esperanza Health Centers vaccination clinic on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Chicago. © Stacey Wescott //Chicago Tribune/TNS Rosita Palomo preps Antonio Perez-Sanchez, right, for his COVID-19 vaccine at the Esperanza Health Centers vaccination clinic on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Chicago.

CHICAGO — Days before Christmas, Illinois health officials on Wednesday reported 16,581 new confirmed and probable cases of the coronavirus, setting a record for daily cases and pushing the total number of reported infections since the start of the pandemic past 2 million.

With screenings for the coronavirus more widespread than ever before, the case positivity rate — the percentage of new cases as a share of total tests — remains well below its peak during the fall 2020 surge. For the week ending Tuesday, the statewide case positivity rate averaged 6%, compared with the peak of 13.2% for the week ending Nov. 12, 2020.

The prevalence of vaccines during the latest surge also means that fewer people who contract COVID-19 are ending up in the hospital or dying from the disease than last year. The vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths continue to occur among those who are not fully vaccinated, according to health officials. Nearly 68% of those 5 and older in Illinois are fully vaccinated, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

But the arrival of the omicron variant, which is highly contagious and has shown to be more resistant to the two-dose vaccine regimen, has public health officials strongly encouraging all who are eligible to receive a booster dose, and everyone to take extra precautions as they gather for the holidays.

In recognition of the latest surge, Mayor Lori Lightfoot this week ordered that beginning Jan. 3 all restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues to check the vaccination status of patrons 5 and older.

The new cases reported statewide Wednesday pushed the average number of new daily cases over the past week to 11,561, the highest level since the week ending Nov. 22, 2020. Last fall’s surge peaked at 12,384 cases per day during the week ending Nov. 16.


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The average number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 peaked at 6,119 per day the following week, and daily deaths from the disease peaked at 154 per day during the week ending Dec. 11, 2020.

In comparison, the 4,178 COVID-19 patients hospitalized statewide as of Tuesday night pushed the seven-day average to 3,909 over the past week, the 66 deaths reported Wednesday brought the average over the past week to 49 per day. As of Wednesday, the state’s death toll stood at 27,357 since the start of the pandemic.

Hospitalizations and deaths are still rising, however, with the average number of hospitalizations up nearly 15% in the past week and daily deaths up more than 14%. Both measures of the virus’s transmission, which lag behind a surge in cases, have more than doubled in the past month.

The latest surge — Illinois’ fifth since spring 2020 — comes as hospitals are filling up with patients seeking treatment not just for COVID-19 but for other ailments for which they had delayed getting taken care of earlier in the pandemic.

Despite the rapid rise in cases, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has not reintroduced or added major restrictions to slow the spread of the virus since August, when he reinstated a statewide mask mandate for indoor public places, regardless of vaccination status.

Illinois is one of eight states with a statewide mask mandate in effect.

While Pritzker has expressed support for stricter local rules like Chicago’s new vaccination check, he has said he isn’t considering a similar rule statewide.

The state instead has focused its efforts on encouraging vaccinations, including boosters, and helping hospitals acquire monoclonal antibody treatments.

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