Illinois’ COVID surge rages on: ‘This is setting up to be a very deadly COVID Christmas’

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Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at an October news conference in the Loop.
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at an October news conference in the Loop. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“Our key message here continues to be: get the vaccine, and if vaccinated and eligible, get the booster,” Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. 

Illinois’ top doctor issued her latest plea Friday for residents to get vaccinated and take basic precautions as the state weathers its latest brutal COVID-19 surge of the pandemic during the heart of the holiday season.

Troubling figures released by the Illinois Department of Public Health showed numbers up across the board for a seventh straight week, with hospitalizations jumping by 16% along with cases and deaths each ticking up by 19%. All those figures have more than doubled since last month.

“Hospitals are seeing COVID admissions rise at an alarming rate,” Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said during a virtual briefing. “This is setting up to be a very deadly COVID Christmas and New Year’s.”

The state has added cases at an average clip of nearly 8,500 per day, the highest rate seen in Illinois in over a year. Officials reported 11,858 new cases Thursday, the most in a day since Dec. 1, 2020, before any of the life-saving vaccines were available.

New COVID-19 cases by day

Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times

Source: Illinois Department of Public Health

Graph not displaying properly? Click here.

The caseloads that have been ballooning since late October have resulted in more hospital beds filling and more families dealing with tragedy — a vicious pattern playing out now for the fifth time since March 2020.

Illinois hospitals were treating 3,783 COVID-19 patients Thursday night, the greatest burden they’ve faced since the first week of January. Intensive care units are at nearly 91% capacity statewide.

Meanwhile, the virus has claimed an average of 45 lives each day over the past week, the worst it’s been since mid-February.

The spike has occurred even before the more transmissible — but potentially less potent, according to early research — Omicron variant takes hold in the state. Sixteen cases have been confirmed statewide, but many more are suspected and the total is “likely to escalate quickly,” according to the Cook County Department of Public Health.

That agency is now urging — but not mandating — suburban businesses to require patrons to show proof of vaccination or a negative test.

On Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said her office is considering “a comprehensive set of new mitigations,” but wouldn’t say if the city will institute a vaccination requirement for indoor dining, a mandate that has been put in place in a handful of other large cities.

But the game plan to contain the surge, officials say, mostly remains the same: wash your hands, maintain social distance, mask up and, most importantly, get vaccinated.

The state’s numbers continue to bear out the fact that the unvaccinated are most at risk: less than a tenth of a percent of fully vaccinated residents have ended up in a hospital with COVID, and an even tinier percentage have died.

“Our key message here continues to be: Get the vaccine, and if vaccinated and eligible, get the booster,” Ezike said.

About a quarter of Illinois residents 5 or older remain unvaccinated. Almost half of eligible adults have gotten a booster, which is needed to provide the most protection against Omicron, experts say.

The vaccines are free at pharmacies nationwide. The city also offers free in-home vaccination appointments. For more information, visit chicago.gov/covidvax or call (312) 746-4835.

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December 17, 2021 at 02:46PM

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