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New COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Chicago, suburban Cook County, Illinois and the nation. There was also an increase this week in Evanston. Hospitalizations are also up, but at a slower rate than new cases, perhaps because the omicron variant is causing less severe illness than the delta variant.  Given the sheer magnitude of new cases, though, the capacity of hospitals to meet the needs of all patients is being strained.

On Jan. 5, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that children ages 12 to 17 get a Pfizer booster. “It is critical that we protect our children and teens from COVID-19 infection and the complications of severe disease,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. “I encourage all parents to keep their children up to date with CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine recommendations.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced Jan. 6 that two new COVID-19 oral antivirals, Paxlovid (Pfizer) and Molnupiravir (Merck), will be available in Illinois later this month.  The antivirals are for people with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk for becoming severely ill, including hospitalization or death.  Both antivirals will be available by prescription only and should be taken as soon as possible after being diagnosed and within five days of the beginning of symptoms. Paxlovid is expected to reduce the risk of hospitalizations by 89% and Molnupiravir by about 30%.  Molnupiravir is meant for use when other treatment options are not available. Molnupiravir is not authorized for use in patients who are pregnant or younger than 18 years of age because it may affect bone and cartilage growth. 

“These new oral antivirals add new tools to our toolbox to keep people with COVID-19 out of the hospital,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “While vaccination, including boosters, is still the best way to avoid infection and prevent severe illness from COVID-19, these new antivirals given emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration can help treat those who get infected and have a higher risk of becoming severely ill.”

School District 65 is scheduled to reopen its schools for in-person learning on Jan. 11. “School District 65 is partnering with SHIELD to provide additional testing opportunities prior to the return of students and staff on Tuesday, January 11 for in-person learning,” said Superintendent Devon Horton in a message to parents. “While testing remains optional, we strongly encourage testing for anyone experiencing any symptoms of illness, who traveled after December 31, or feel that they could have been exposed to COVID-19.”

Evanston Township High School, which is also partnering with SHIELD in a testing program, is scheduled to start school on Jan. 10. “All ETHS students will complete COVID testing on January 11-12 to help identify trends in COVID-19 prevalence and transmission after the break,” says ETHS on its website.  The school is also planning to have ongoing testing every week. Parents/guardians were given an opportunity to opt out of the testing program.

Each school district also has many protocols to minimize the risk of infection and spread of the virus at the schools.

Starting Jan. 10,  individuals five and older will be required to show proof of vaccination when visiting Evanston dining, entertainment and fitness establishments. These mitigations are in line with those being implemented in neighboring communities, including Chicago, Skokie, and suburban Cook County.

Trends of New Cases in Illinois and Evanston

Illinois: The number of new COVID-19 cases in Illinois continues to soar. On Jan. 6, the number of new cases in the state was 44,089. The seven-day average of new cases in Illinois is 27,141, up from 18,321, one week ago, a 47% increase. An accompanying chart shows the upward trend since Oct. 28.

The seven-day average for the week ending Jan. 6 is more than twice that of the previous high for the state during the surge in November of 2020.

Evanston: The city reported 136 new COVID-19 cases of Evanston residents on Jan. 6.

There was a total of 663 new COVID-19 cases of Evanston residents in the week ending Jan. 6, compared to 618 new cases in the week ending Dec. 30. The seven-day average increased to 94.7 from 88.3 one week ago. The chart below shows the trend.

There has been a total of 8,448 COVID-19 cases of Evanston residents during the pandemic, 382 of which are active.

One Evanstonian died due to COVID-19 in the last week, on Dec. 31. The total number of Evanston deaths due to COVID-19 is 129.

Impact of Northwestern University. NU closed for the holidays on Dec. 22 and has not updated its COVID-19 dashboard through Jan. 6. ( Update on Jan. 7: On Jan.7, NU posted data that there were 909 new COVID-19 cases of faculty, staff and students between Dec. 31 and Jan. 6, If the cases were of people who reside in Evanston, they would be included in the City of Evanston numbers.)

The risk level of community spread

The weekly number of new cases per 100,000 people in Illinois increased from 1,012 in the seven days ending Dec. 30, to 1,499 for the seven days ending Jan. 6. The number of new cases per week in the state is now about 65 times higher than it was on June 10, the day before the state moved to Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois Plan. 

As of Jan. 6, the weekly number of new cases per 100,000 people in Evanston is 902. The number per 100,000 for Chicago is 1,495, and for suburban Cook County it is 1,579. The chart above illustrates that these numbers have spiked again in the last week.

Under CDC guidelines, an area is regarded as “high transmission” if it has more than 100 new weekly cases per 100,000 people. (See footnote 2.) Illinois, Chicago, suburban Cook County and Evanston are all way past that threshold. Evanston is more than nine times higher than the threshold.

Test Positivity Rates: The most recent seven-day test-positivity rates are: Illinois – 18.6%; Chicago – 18.7%; suburban Cook County – 19%; and Evanston – 6.9%.

Except for Evanston, these rates are all significantly higher than one week ago.  They indicate that there are many cases that are not being detected, and that the risk of spread is very high and increasing. The CDC and IDPH both say that a test positivity rate over 10% indicates an area is a “high transmission” area.

Vaccinations

 IDPH reports that as of Dec. 30,  77.3% of Illinois residents five and older had at least one dose of a vaccine, and 68.6% were fully vaccinated. These percentages are increasing very slowly and include people who reside in Illinois and have been vaccinated in Illinois or in other states. (Source: CDC and IDPH.)

Data provided by IDPH indicates that only about 42% of Illinois residents who are fully vaccinated have received the booster shot, which is regarded as important to increase the effectiveness of the vaccines, particularly with respect to the omicron variant.

As of Jan. 6, 93.8% of Evanston residents five and older had received at least one dose of a vaccine; 84.4% were fully vaccinated. (Source: City of Evanston.)

ICU bed usage

Hospitalizations of COVID patients are going up. In suburban Cook County the increase of hospitalizations went from a seven-day average of 1,159 to 1,774 in the last 10 days. In Chicago the increase went from 907 to 1,531.

In Chicago and suburban Cook County the percent of Intensive Care Unit beds that are available is only 10%. IDPH said the desired minimum is 20%.  As of Jan. 5, there was a combined total of 129 ICU beds available in Chicago and suburban Cook County.

FOOTNOTES

1/ The State moved to Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois Plan on June 11. As of July 1, the RoundTable has been covering COVID-19 metrics once a week on Thursdays.  Specifically, the RoundTable is presenting two charts showing: 1) the trends in the number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in two recent seven-day periods for Evanston, Chicago, suburban Cook County and the state. The chart also shows the weekly numbers of new cases for each region as of June 10 as a baseline to gauge whether cases are going up since the move to Phase 5; and 2) the most recent test positivity rates for these areas.  

As discussed in footnote 3 below, the CDC recommends that these two measures be used to determine the level of risk of transmission.  If we see a surge in new cases or in the test positivity rates, we will consider covering additional metrics.

We will also report the most recent percentages of vaccinated people, 12 and older, in Evanston and Illinois.

2/ In late July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), and Evanston’s Health & Human Services Dept. each adopted recommendations that everyone, including fully vaccinated people, wear a mask in a public indoor setting in areas with “substantial” and “high transmission” of new COVID-19 cases. Areas of substantial transmission are considered to be those with between 50 and 99 cases per 100,000 people over a 7-day period. Areas of high transmission are considered to be those with more than 100 cases per 100,000 people over a 7-day period.

They also recommend universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. 

3/ On Feb. 12, the CDC issued a K-12 School Operational Strategy. As part of that strategy, the report says CDC recommends the use of two measures to determine the level of risk of transmission: 1) the total number of new cases per 100,000 persons in the past 7 days; and 2) the percentage of COVID tests during the last seven days that were positive. The CDC provides a chart to assess whether the risk of transmission is low, moderate, substantial, or high. If the two indicators suggest different levels of risk, CDC says the higher level of risk should be used. The table below, reprinted from CDC’s report, provides CDC’s Indicators and Thresholds for Community Transmission of COVID-219.

CDC’s guidelines are available here: Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Prevention | CDC

 Illinois Data

Cook county   CDC COVID Data Tracker

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...

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