TO UPDATE: Several Illinois counties are now at “high community levels” of the virus, including several in the Chicago area. Read the latest update here.
Chicago health officials said that while no mandates are expected in the run-up to Memorial Day weekend, although the region is likely to enter a “high” community alert, there are some precautions residents should take.
Chicago Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, on Friday urged people who plan to gather for the bank holiday weekend to do so outdoors or wear masks in indoor public spaces.
“One of the simplest things we can do to reduce COVID risk is do most things outdoors or have an outdoor celebration,” she said. “For me that takes my apprehension way down and I know people are gathering for Memorial Day if you can do that, especially for someone who is at higher risk I highly recommend that.”
Arwady said while gatherings are not discouraged, she urged people to “be careful and careful”.
“When someone is visiting, we see people, travel is a risk factor,” she said. “I would just encourage if you have people coming into town and worried about it do some of those home tests – you take a test that day if everyone is negative, the chance you’re going to have a bigger COVID -Breakout or super spreader event is quite minor. So it’s about considering the risk of who’s there, what’s available. But the beauty of summer is that we can be outside as much as possible, and I encourage you to do that.”
Arwady said the city, along with Cook County, is likely to go on high alert in the community this week under guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC data will be updated Thursday evening.
“We assume that we will enter the high-end segment,” said Arwady on Thursday. “So starting tomorrow we’ll be doing a formal update, but that’s our expectation.”
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.
As of Friday, every county in Chicago-area Illinois was at a “moderate community level” of COVID-19 under CDC guidelines, although some were expected to reach 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.
Cook County was reporting 367.34 new weekly cases per 100,000 residents last Friday, along with 9.8 new COVID admissions per 100,000 residents per week.
This hospitalization cluster (a group of counties that the CDC categorizes based on health care patterns and proximity) also includes DuPage, Lake, and McHenry counties.
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 this week.
In the event that a county reaches a “high community level” of COVID, residents are advised to wear masks indoors regardless of COVID immunization status.
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.
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.
Arwady said that is not yet the case for Chicago.
“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 starting to see some impact on hospital admissions.” , but we wouldn’t reintroduce mask requirements, for example, until we did – unless and until – we saw a serious impact on our hospitals here in Chicago.
The change in alert status would come just before the Memorial Day holiday weekend.