As more Illinois counties reach heightened community COVID-19 levels, what could happen once an area is put 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 who live in a household with those residents, are urged to consider avoiding “non-essential indoor activities,” and to consult with their physicians on additional steps that may need to be taken.
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.
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Evanston, a northern suburb just outside of Chicago, has also said it is currently at a "high" community level.
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.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said that is not the case for city - yet.
"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," she said.
Should Chicago reach "high" alert level by the end of the week, which Arwady noted is likely, health officials would recommend people who are at higher risk for severe outcomes from the virus "may want to think about avoiding non essential indoor gatherings."
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.
In Cook County, 367.34 new weekly cases per 100,000 residents were being reported as of Friday, along with 9.8 new COVID admissions per 100,000 residents per week.
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.
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."