Though Cook County could move into a level of high COVID-19 transmission by the end of the week, Chicago health officials say a mask mandate would not immediately return.
The Chicago Department of Public Health said the additional mandates wouldn't be reinstated because severe outcomes of a coronavirus infection are "relatively rare" and the burden on hospitals remains "low."
As of Tuesday, Cook County was at "medium community level" for COVID spread, and though mandates are not expected to return, CDPH recommended taking the following precautions to stay safe:
- Wear a mask inside indoor public places
- Ensure you're up to date on COVID vaccinations and booster shots
- Get tested and quarantine, if feeling the onset of symptoms
- As the weather warms, try to gather outside
- Those with underlying conditions, seek COVID treatment
"Just to be clear, if the county does move to that higher risk with the update later this week, the city of Chicago would be considered at a high risk for COVID because our cases are high and we're starting to see some impact on hospitalizations, but we would not be reinstating mask mandates, for example, until we started - unless and until - we started to see serious impact on our hospitals here in Chicago," CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.
As of Friday, every Illinois county within the Chicago area was at a “medium community level” of COVID, according to CDC guidelines, though several were expected to reach the "high" level in this week's upcoming update. Eight Illinois counties, however, are already at high community level risk for COVID: Boone, Lee, Stephenson, Winnebago, Champaign, Ford, Peoria and Tazewell.
Evanston, a northern suburb just outside of Chicago, has also said it is currently at a "high" community level.
According to the CDC, a county will be considered at a “high community level” of COVID-19 if it is seeing more than 200 new weekly COVID cases per 100,000 residents, and if it is seeing either 10 or more new COVID admissions per 100,000 residents per week, or if it is seeing 10% or greater hospital bed use by COVID patients.
Based on the latest data, Chicago is seeing 4.9 new weekly COVID hospitalizations per 100,000 residents and 4.5% of bed occupied by coronavirus patients.
CDPH noted that Chicago would have to see approximately double the number of COVID hospitalizations to consider a universal mask mandate.
Also included in that hospitalization cluster, which is a group of counties that the CDC categorizes together because of health care service patterns and proximity, are DuPage, Lake and McHenry counties.
CDC officials say that DeKalb, Kane and Kendall counties are seeing 8.1 new admissions per 100,000 residents, meaning that those three counties could also find themselves in the “high community level” range by next week.
While city and county health officials have not definitively said that a move to the “high community level” could trigger a new mask mandate, some have indicated that such a strategy could be implemented in the event of strain put on medical facilities.
The change in alert status would come just ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
"Gather outside if you can. It's the easiest, safest thing that significantly cuts the risk of COVID if you're getting together with folks," Arwady said. "But you are good to gather, just make sure folks have vaccines and boosters, outdoors where you can, test if you've got COVID symptoms and be careful."
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