Multiple Chicago-area counties have climbed to a new COVID alert level, according to guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but what does that mean for you? Should you wear a mask? Do you need to take added precautions?
According to the CDC, five counties in the state are currently at a “medium community level” of COVID transmission, with the federal agency making a series of recommendations to residents living in the impacted communities. Suburban Cook County also issued an alert Friday saying its metrics have also lifted it to the "medium" level.
So what does a “medium community level” of COVID transmission mean? Which counties are impacted? And what does the data look like in those areas? Here are the details you need to know.
Which Counties are at a ‘Medium Risk’ of COVID Transmission?
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According to the CDC, there are five counties in the state of Illinois currently at “medium risk” of COVID transmission. Two of those counties, DuPage and Lake, are in the Chicago area.
The other three are clustered in central Illinois, with Champaign, Logan and McLean counties all in that risk range.
Suburban Cook County also said it is in the "medium" risk level. The Cook County Department of Public Health issued an alert Friday afternoon saying "an increase in the number of positive cases" lifted the county to the second-highest risk level.
Though the county was not listed on the CDC's most recent county-by-county transmission risk update, CCDPH said its metrics as of Thursday indicate suburban portions meet the criteria.
What Constitutes a ‘Medium Risk’ of COVID Transmission?
According to the CDC, a combination of three metrics is used to determine a county’s risk factor for COVID transmission.
The first is the number of new COVID hospital admissions per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period. The second is the percentage of a county’s staffed inpatient hospital beds that are occupied by COVID patients, and the third is the number of new COVID cases per 100,000 residents in the last seven days.
Under CDC guidelines, counties that are seeing fewer than 200 new COVID cases per 100,000 residents will be considered at medium-risk if they are averaging between 10 and 19.9 new COVID admissions per 100,000 residents, or if they are reporting between 10 and 14.9% hospital bed usage over a seven-day period.
Counties that are reporting more than 200 new COVID cases per day per 100,000 residents are at a medium-risk of COVID transmission. If their new COVID-19 admissions exceed 10 per 100,000 residents, or their percentage of staffed hospital bed usage exceeds 10%, then they would move to a “high risk” category.
What Are the Numbers in the Affected Counties?
DuPage County is currently considered to be at a “medium risk” of COVID transmission because of its case rate. According to the CDC, the county is seeing 258.64 new cases of COVID per 100,000 residents, putting it at an increased alert level.
The county is averaging 5.7 new COVID admissions per 100,000 residents, which is an elevated number but still below the number that would trigger a move to a “high risk” category. The county’s hospital bed usage is still low as well, only sitting at 1.8%.
Lake County is seeing nearly identical numbers, with 212.19 new cases per 100,000 residents. In fact, it’s new COVID admissions (5.7) and staffed hospital bed usage (1.8%) are identical to DuPage County, per CDC data.
As of April 28, 2022, suburban Cook County reported 210 cases per 100,000 residents in the last seven days, according to the county health department.
"As hospitalizations remain low, we want to contain further spread now," said Dr. Rachel Rubin, senior medical officer and co-lead of CCDPH.
Further downstate, McLean County is seeing 291.52 new COVID cases per 100,000 residents. Logan County is close behind at 283.04, and Champaign County has the highest number of new cases in the state at 352.9 new cases per 100,000 residents.
Even still, Champaign County’s new admissions (5.3) and staffed bed usage (1.5%) are still far below the “high risk” threshold.
What the CDC Recommends for Such Counties
If you live in one of the counties currently in the “medium risk” category, the CDC still recommends staying up-to-date with COVID vaccines, and to get tested if you exhibit symptoms of COVID.
The main change from the low to medium risk categories is that individuals who are immunocompromised or otherwise at high-risk for severe illness are encouraged to talk to their health care providers about whether or not they should wear a mask and take other precautions related to COVID.
If a county moves to the high transmission risk level, then all residents are urged to wear masks indoors, and for immunocompromised individuals to take additional precautions.
Lake County officials highlighted vaccinations, testing and wearing a mask as precautions to take as metrics climb.
"We continue to urge our community to get vaccinated and boosted when eligible in order to ensure they have the best protection possible against COVID-19," the county told NBC Chicago in a statement. "Individuals who are experiencing symptoms should get tested for COVID-19 and wear a mask. Wearing a mask in public places is proven to reduce risk of infection and is recommended for those at increased risk of severe illness from a COVID-19 infection."
Suburban Cook County is also recommending the following guidelines for its residents:
- wearing a mask indoors to protect those at high risk for severe illness from a COVID infection including adults over the age of 50, those with underlying medical conditions, and the immunocompromised
- socializing outdoors if possible and avoiding poorly ventilated indoor settings
- getting tested before attending a family or public event. Home tests are ideal for this purpose
- contacting your doctor right away to get treatment for COVID if you are diagnosed
- getting any COVID-19 vaccine boosters that you are eligible for
"These recommendations are not new but are being emphasized to protect our communities from further increases in COVID," Rubin said in a statement.