Chicago and suburbs reach low risk level for COVID-19 as new cases and hospitalizations decline

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Chicago and Cook County moved from a moderate to low COVID-19 community level on Friday, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health. This is the first time since early May that the area has been classified at the low level of COVID-19 impact.

“Achieving this threshold means fewer Chicago residents are hospitalized with COVID-19 each day,” said public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady in a press release, while still stressing the importance of vaccines and the continued presence of the coronavirus.

As of Thursday — 2 ½ years after the first pandemic shutdowns — the average number of new cases in Chicago was 383, down 14% from the week before. On average, 3.6% of hospital beds in the city are in use for COVID-19, up from 4.1% last week. And the city has had an average of just one COVID-19-related death in recent days. In comparison, in the early, pre-vaccination days of the pandemic, the loss of life in Chicago related to COVID-19 peaked at an average of about 50 deaths per day.

According to the CDPH, ommicron subvariants make up 95% of new cases in Chicago. An updated COVID-19 vaccine to protect against these variants was made available to the public this month.

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Community Levels are a measure of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help communities determine the preventive measures to take in an area. But basic guidelines for COVID-19 protection have not changed, including staying home and testing when sick and wearing a mask in crowded indoor environments.

According to the CDC, low-level recommendations for Cook County also include wearing a mask if you’re on public transportation and if you’re exposed to someone with COVID-19.

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Cook is one of 30 counties in Illinois that went from a medium or high COVID-19 community level to a low level this week, a designation now shared by the entire Chicago area. Thirty-six counties in the state remain at elevated levels of COVID-19 impact, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

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CDPH encourages people 12 and older to get the updated COVID-19 vaccine, known as a bivalent booster, before the colder weather arrives in Chicago. When people spend more time indoors, the spread of respiratory viruses only gets worse, Arwady said.

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The department also encourages anyone 6 months and older to get a flu shot.

According to CDPH, 75,000 Chicago residents had received the booster as of Wednesday. The city will host two vaccination clinics on Saturday, at Daley College and Wright College, both from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. This weekend is likely the last chance to receive a $50 gift card from CDPH for every dose of the COVID-19 vaccine received, the department said.

Illinois has a significant supply of the booster shots, which are especially recommended for people over 50 and those who are immunocompromised, said IDPH director Dr. Sameer Vohra.

More than 135,000 doses of the bivalent booster were administered statewide last week, IDPH reports.

“This is an encouraging sign as we enter the fall season and face a potential increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,” Vohra said in a press release.

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