UPDATE: Several Illinois counties are now at a “high community level” of the virus, including several in the Chicago area. Read the latest update here.
Chicago health officials said while no mandates are expected in the lead-up to the Memorial Day weekend, despite the region likely transitioning into a "high" community alert level, there are some precautions residents should take.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady on Friday urged people who plan to gather for the holiday weekend to do so outside, or to wear masks if in indoor public spaces.
"One of the easiest things we can do to ease the risk of COVID is most things outside, or have a celebration outside," she said. "For me, that takes my concern way down and I know as folks are gathering for Memorial Day, if you can do that, especially for somebody who's higher risk, I strongly recommend that."
Arwady said while gatherings are not discouraged, she urged people to "be careful and cautious."
"If somebody is visiting, we do see people, travel is a is a risk factor," she said. "I would just encourage if you've got folks coming into town and you're worried about it, get some of those home tests - you take a test that day, if everybody's negative, the chance that you're going to have a major COVID outbreak or super spreader event is quite low. So it's thinking about the risk of who's there, what's available. But the nice thing during the summer is that we can we can be outside as much as possible and I encourage you to do that."
Arwady said the city, along with Cook County, will likely reach a high community alert level, per guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this week. The data from the CDC is set for an update Thursday evening.
"We do expect to be moving into high end," Arwady said Thursday. "So as of tomorrow, we'll do a formal update, but this is our expectation."
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.
As of Friday, every Illinois county within the Chicago area was at a “medium community level” of COVID-19, 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.
In Cook County, 367.34 new weekly cases per 100,000 residents were being reported as of last Friday, along with 9.8 new COVID admissions per 100,000 residents per week.
Also included in that hospitalization cluster (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 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 vaccination status.
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.
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.
Arwady said that is not the case for Chicago - 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."
The change in alert status would come just ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
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