COVID-19 Poses ‘High’ Risk Across Chicago, Cook County: Federal Health Officials | Chicago News

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(Patty Wetli / WTTW News)(Patty Wetli / WTTW News)

All residents of Cook County — including those in Chicago — now face a “high” risk of contracting COVID-19 and should wear a mask indoors, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That means there is “high community spread and high potential for healthcare system strain,” federal officials warned. Residents should wear a mask indoors, limit gatherings to a small number of people and consider avoiding “higher-risk activities such as crowded indoor gatherings,” according to the guidance from federal officials.

Cook County now has 10.9 new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 residents during a seven-day period, meeting the threshold set by federal health officials to warn residents that the risk of contracting COVID-19 has risen from “medium” to “high.” (The city of Chicago has 7.0 new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 during a seven-day period, according to Chicago Department of Public Health data.)

The county is one of 15 statewide to move to high community spread of COVID-19, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Will, Grundy, Boone, Lee, Winnebago, Fulton, Knox, Henderson, Mason, Peoria and Tazewell counties are also now rated at high community spread for COVID-19, according to federal officials. 

Cook County moved from a low COVID-19 risk to a medium risk of COVID-19 on May 5.

Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said Thursday morning Chicago officials will reimpose an indoor mask mandate only if and when the number of COVID-19 patients threatens the ability of Chicago’s hospitals to function.

“Severe outcomes in Chicago remain relatively rare and the burden of COVID-19 on our local hospitals remains low,” according to a statement from the Chicago Department of Public Health.

“The city of Chicago continues to monitor this closely. We take it very seriously. If COVID threatens our local hospitals and health care facilities’ capacity, we will take further action like citywide indoor mask mandates or even more stringent if that’s required,” Arwady said Thursday. “But we don’t need it yet and we don’t want to get there.”

Approximately twice as many Chicagoans would need to be hospitalized before the city would consider reimposing the mask mandate, according to Chicago health officials.

Those at high risk for severe illness from a COVID-19 infection include those older than 50, those with underlying medical conditions and the immunocompromised, health officials said.

While the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been rising in Chicago since March 8 — approximately a week after city and state officials lifted the mask mandate and vaccine requirement for some businesses — the number of people in Chicago hospitals with COVID-19 remain near all-time lows.

The number of people who have died from COVID-19 has never been lower, according to data from the Chicago Department of Public Health. Since May 1, 11 people have died from the virus, according to city data through Wednesday.

That is due to the efficacy of the vaccines, Arwady said.

Federal health officials consider the risk of contracting COVID-19 “high” in a county where the hospitals and health system were beginning to be strained by the number of those ill with the virus, according to guidelines that have been in place since Feb. 28.

According to the CDC, 3.5% of staffed hospital beds in Cook County are in use by COVID-19 patients on average during the past seven days. (In Chicago, 4% of staffed hospital beds are in use by COVID-19 patients, according to CDPH data.) If 10% of staffed hospital beds in Cook County are in use by COVID-19 patients on average during the past seven days, the risk level would rise to “high,” according to the CDC.

That strain is measured by the number of new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 residents during a seven-day period and the percent of staffed hospital beds in use by COVID-19 patients on average during the past seven days.

Arwady urged residents to take additional precautions while community spread is high, including wearing face coverings indoors, avoiding crowded indoor settings, limiting gathering sizes and getting up to date on COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, which are now recommended for all individuals ages 5 and up five months after the last jab.

Kristen Thometz contributed.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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