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New COVID-19 cases in Evanston, suburban Cook County, Chicago and the state increased again in the last week. Hospitalizations due to COVID, however, remain at relatively low levels.

New subvariant

COVID cases are rising in the northeast section of the United States as the BA.2 omicron subvariant becomes the dominant strain. The number of new cases has doubled there in the last week, but the number is still about 5% of the number of new cases in mid-January. It is unknown if the latest increase is the start of a larger surge or just a blip.

It is now generally accepted that the official tally of new COVID-19 cases does not provide a full picture of the pandemic, because many people are taking tests at home and not reporting the results to government agencies.

On April 10 U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said, “I think that we’re dramatically undercounting cases. We’re probably only picking up one in seven or one in eight infections. So when we say there’s 30,000 infections a day, it’s probably closer to a quarter of a million infections a day. … And that’s because a lot of people are testing at home, they’re not presenting for definitive PCR tests, so they’re not getting counted.”

IDPH adopts new guidelines for tracking COVID-19

On April 12, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced that it was adopting new federal guidelines for tracking COVID-19 at the community level. Under the new guidelines, testing providers will no longer be required to report some negative tests and IDPH will therefore no longer report test and case positivity.

Going forward, IDPH said it plans to provide the following data in its dashboard:

• Updated data on vaccination rates to reflect the full population eligible as eligibility continues to evolve.
• The number of people admitted to the hospital with a COVID-19 diagnosis.
• More detailed data on hospitalizations, including information about vaccination status in those who are hospitalized.

“Test and case positivity rates were seen as a good way to monitor the level of community spread early in the pandemic,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Acting Director Amaal Tokars. “At this stage, now that we have vaccines and effective therapies available, it is more useful to rely on data that indicates the case rate, disease severity and the level of strain on the healthcare system to guide our public health recommendations.”

IDPH also noted, “The widespread use of at-home tests means that national testing data is not as comprehensive or representative of population-based testing as it was before the introduction of at-home tests.”

IDPH also said in a prepared statement, “Case rates for COVID-19 are now slowly rising in many areas of the state, but hospitalizations and deaths continue to remain low. Given that the spread of COVID-19 is increasing, people who are at high risk for serious illness should take the following precautions:

• Get vaccinated and stay up-to-date on recommended booster shots to protect yourself, your loved ones and friends.
• If you are in an area with rising  COVID-19 infections, wear a mask if entering indoor spaces with other people present and consider avoiding large gatherings.
• Stick to well-ventilated areas if you are not wearing a mask indoors around other people.
• If you feel flu-like symptoms, self-isolate and stay home from work as well as social gatherings; and obtain a test as quickly as possible.
• If you test positive, talk to your provider immediately so you can get COVID-19 treatment within five days of starting to feel sick. Also, communicate about the positive result with any persons you have been in close contact within two days of falling sick or testing positive.
• Continue to frequently wash your hands and cover coughs and sneezes.

Trends of new cases in Illinois and Evanston

Illinois:  On April 14 the number of new cases in the state jumped to 3,340, up from 1,496 one week ago.

The seven-day average of new cases in Illinois on April 14 was 1,992, up from 1,412 on April 7, a 41% increase. An accompanying chart shows the trend.   

Evanston: The city reported there were 36 new COVID-19 cases of Evanston residents on April 13, and 44 on April 12. (Evanston is reporting COVID-19 data with a one-day delay.)

There was a total of 196 new COVID-19 cases of Evanston residents in the week ending April 13, compared to 110 new cases in the week ending April 7, a 78% increase.

The seven-day average of new cases was 28 for the week ending April 13, compared to 15.9 for the week ending April 7.  An accompanying chart shows the trend.

No Evanstonian died due to COVID-19 during the week ending April 13. The total number of residential deaths due to COVID-19 remains at 147.

Cases at District 65 and ETHS: School District 65’s COVID-19 dashboard reports that for the seven-days ending April 15, a total of 32 students and 15 staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

Evanston Township High School reports on its dashboard that in the seven-days ending April 11, two students and four staff tested positive for COVID-19.

The data does not reflect whether the students and staff contracted the virus while at school.  

Impact of Northwestern University. The latest data reported on NU’s website is that between April 8 and April 14, there were 304 new COVID-19 cases of faculty, staff or students. If the cases are of an Evanston resident, they are supposed to be included in Evanston’s data for the relevant period.

Cases per 100,000

The weekly number of new cases per 100,000 people in Illinois increased from 78 in the seven days ending April 7 to 109 in the seven days ending April 14.

As of April 13, the weekly number of new cases per 100,000 people in Evanston was 265. As of April 14, the number was 124 for Chicago, and 145 for suburban Cook County. An accompanying chart shows the trend.

IDPH ranking of Cook County

The CDC and IDPH look at the combination of three metrics – new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 population in the past seven days, the seven-day average percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, and total new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population in the past seven days – to determine the COVID-19 Community Level for each county in the state: low, medium or high. [1]

As of April 14, IDPH has ranked Cook County in the “low” category.

IDPH recommends that people in a county with a low rating should:

  • Wear a mask based on personal preference, informed by personal level of risk. People with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask.
  • Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters
  • Maintain improved ventilation throughout indoor spaces when possible
  • Follow CDC recommendations for isolation and quarantine, including getting tested if you are exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19
  • If immunocompromised or at high risk for severe disease, follow these guidelines
  • Have a plan for rapid testing if needed (e.g., having home tests or access to testing)
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you are a candidate for treatments like oral antivirals, PrEP and monoclonal antibodies.

FOOTNOTES

1/ CDC recommends the use of three indicators to measure COVID-19 Community Levels: 1) new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population in the last 7 days; 2) new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 population in the last 7 days; and 3) the percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by patients with confirmed COVID-19 (7-day average). 

The chart below illustrates how these indicators are combined to determine whether COVID-19 Community Levels are low, medium, or high. The CDC provides many recommendations depending on whether the COVID-19 Community Level is low, medium, or high.

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/science/science-briefs/indicators-monitoring-community-levels.html

 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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