As more counties in Illinois reach elevated community COVID-19 levels, what might happen if an area is placed on “high” alert?
In the event that a county reaches a “high community level” of COVID, residents are advised to wear masks indoors, regardless of coronavirus vaccination status, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Those residents who are immunocompromised or live in a household with these residents are urged to avoid “non-essential indoor activities” and to consult with their doctors about any additional steps that may need to be taken.
As of Friday, every county in Chicago-area Illinois was at a “moderate community level” of COVID under CDC guidelines, although some were expected to hit the “high” level in this week’s upcoming update. However, eight counties in Illinois are already at high community-level risk for COVID: Boone, Lee, Stephenson, Winnebago, Champaign, Ford, Peoria and Tazewell.
Evanston, a northern suburb just outside Chicago, has also said it is currently at a “high” community level.
While city and county health officials have not said definitively that a move to the “high community level” could trigger a new mask mandate, some have suggested that such a strategy could be implemented in the event of a strain on medical facilities.
Chicago Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said that is not yet the case for the city.
“Just to be clear, if the county moves to this higher risk with the update later this week, the city of Chicago would be considered at high risk for COVID as our cases are high and we are beginning to see some impact on hospitalizations, but we wouldn’t reintroduce mask mandates, for example, until we did – unless and until – we see a serious impact on our hospitals here in Chicago,” she said.
Should Chicago go into a “high” alert level by the end of the week, which Arwady says is likely, health officials would recommend people who are at higher risk of severe consequences from the virus “may want to consider avoiding non-essential indoor gatherings.” .
According to the CDC, a county is considered “high community level” of COVID-19 if it records more than 200 new weekly COVID cases per 100,000 residents and if it records either 10 or more new COVID admissions per 100,000 residents per week, or if 10% or more hospital beds are occupied by COVID patients.
Cook County was reporting 367.34 new weekly cases per 100,000 residents as of Friday, along with 9.8 new COVID admissions per 100,000 residents per week.
DuPage, Lake, and McHenry counties are also included in this hospitalization cluster, a group of counties that the CDC grouped together based on health care patterns and proximity.
CDC officials say DeKalb, Kane and Kendall counties are seeing 8.1 new admissions per 100,000 residents, meaning those three counties could also be in the “high community level” range by next week.
The change in alert status would come just before the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
“Gather outside if you can. It’s the easiest and safest thing that significantly lowers the risk of COVID when you meet people,” Arwady said. “But you’re good to collect, just make sure people have vaccines and boosters, outdoors where you can, test for COVID symptoms and be careful.”