Thirty-two Illinois counties are now rated at high community level for COVID-19, including Chicago, Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, Boone, DeKalb, Lee, Ogle and Winnebago in northern Illinois and several in central and southern Illinois, IDPH said in a statement. Thirty-nine counties in Illinois are now rated at medium community level, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports.
“In the days since the Memorial Day weekend we have seen a ten percent increase in COVID-19 across Illinois, reversing the downward trend of the previous two weeks,” IDPH Acting Director Amaal Tokars said in the statement. “This uptick is a cause for concern—and serves as a reminder to all of us, especially as we are approaching the coming Father’s Day and Juneteenth weekend, that we can all do our part to fight the virus and protect our friends and family who are vulnerable to severe outcomes by taking some simple actions. The most effective way to prevent severe illness is for all to be up-to date with vaccinations and boosters. This is especially important for elders and persons who are immunocompromised or have complex medical conditions. Wear your mask in indoor public places and avoid indoor crowded spaces. If needed, contact a health care provider promptly to discuss what treatment is right for you.”
For some of the most vulnerable in the population, the elderly and people with multiple chronic conditions, it’s even more important to be extra cautious, says Dr. Michelle Mitchell, executive medical director for Oak Street Health’s Heartland region, which covers Illinois and Missouri. But it’s natural that we’re all a little fatigued by COVID and want to open up.
“We’re moving into this next stage, and people are excited to be out without masks. But our patients are much more cautious, and it’s not unwarranted,” said Mitchell.
Chicago-based Oak Street is a network of primary care physicians’ offices catering to adults of Medicare age.
With no plans to issue a mask mandate in suburban Cook County, the county health department “has been focusing our messaging on the many options residents have for protecting themselves and their communities from severe COVID-19 illness,” said Dr. Darcie Moeller, COVID-19 Health Equity Medical Director for the Cook County Department of Public Health said in an emailed statement. “While getting all recommended COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters is highly important, some of our residents do not get the same protection from vaccination. For example, older adults and people with health conditions that affect their immune systems may still get very sick from COVID-19 infection even if they have been vaccinated.”
Oak Street’s Mitchell said that even among older adults, vaccinated and boosted, or double-boosted, patients are generally experiencing less severe COVID symptoms and avoiding hospitalization. The company vaccinated 125,000 patients in the first months that vaccines were made available, and “Have you had your latest booster?” is pretty much always one of the first questions Oak Street asks at each patient visit.
Moving to anything more rigid like mask mandates would be difficult these days, Mitchell said, so the public health official’s approach is likely the best.
“Overall, our public health has done a good job with balancing the need to keep people safe with what the overall community is willing to do,” Mitchell said.
Earlier this week, Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago’s Public Health Commissioner, sounded a note of optimism.
“The best news is that all of the variants we are detecting locally continue to be omicron and thanks to vaccination, severe outcomes like hospitalizations and deaths remain low and our hospital system continues to have capacity. This means we are unlikely to need to reinstate mask mandates in the near future,” Arwady said in a statement June 7. “But there is still a lot of COVID transmission in Chicago right now, so please wear your mask indoors, especially in any larger gathering. And, of course, stay up to date with your vaccines–including boosters. Finally, if you are experiencing any symptoms, take a COVID-19 test right away so you don’t inadvertently infect others.”