As Illinois health officials report an increase in COVID-19 metrics statewide over the past week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker weighed in on whether the region could see heightened coronavirus mitigations.
"We're looking at everything that has been done over the last few years, always, but what we're really focused on is making sure that people are following the masking requirements indoors," Pritzker said during an unrelated press conference Friday. "Thank you to all of you who are doing that."
When asked about his response to Chicago officials considering establishing additional COVID mitigations, Pritzker said local governments should "certainly look at stricter mitigations," if warranted.
On Friday, Illinois health officials reported an increase in nearly all COVID metrics, with 49,668 new cases an increase of 266 deaths in the past week, up from 42,559 cases and 182 additional deaths the week before.
The state’s seven-day positivity rate on all tests increased to 5.8% this week, officials said, up from 5.6% this week. The rolling average seven-day positivity rate for cases as a percentage of total tests dropped to 4.3%, down from 4.7% one week prior, however.
As of midnight Thursday, 3,257 patients were hospitalized due to COVID in the state. Of those patients, 662 are in ICU beds, and 299 are on ventilators.
Earlier this week, a new report showed Illinois was among six states that have accounted for more than half of the United States' recent COVID-19 hospitalizations. Data recorded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services between Nov. 10 and Dec. 5 showed Illinois added 1,187 COVID hospitalizations.
As of Wednesday, all 102 counties in the state of Illinois were experiencing “high transmission” levels of COVID, while many are also experiencing dramatic growth in other metrics designed to illustrate how rapidly the virus is spreading.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers a county to have a “high transmission” rate of COVID if 100 or more residents per 100,000 individuals have contracted the virus in a given week.
Officials in Winnebago County have issued a disaster proclamation amid increasing numbers of COVID cases and hospitalizations in the area.
In a press release, Winnebago County Board Chairman Joseph Chiarelli has declared a local disaster for a period of seven days, retroactive to Wednesday.
According to the release, the declaration will lend additional support to the Winnebago County Health Department, as well as emergency management agencies for the county and for the city of Rockford.
As COVID metrics also increase across Chicago, city health officials detailed this week what steps could be taken to curb the uptick, including providing proof of vaccination and establishing capacity limits.
As the new omicron COVID-19 variant continues to spread across the U.S., with at least one case identified in Chicago, health officials say the city could start requiring proof of vaccination status in public places.
In a Facebook Live event, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said some private establishments have already started requiring proof of vaccination, and the city may follow.
"Might we begin requiring proof of vaccination for more activities and public spaces? Yes, I think we might," Arwady said. "I certainly am more interested in that than I am in needing to do some of the major shut downs."
Chicago will continue to require masks indoors, she noted, as well as requiring city workers to be vaccinated against the virus and encouraging increased hand-washing and social distancing as COVID cases rise citywide.
Previously, Chicago officials said a proof of vaccination requirement similar to one in New York City for things like indoor dining, restaurants, bars, gyms and other venues was not "off the table."
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, alderman for Chicago's 35th ward, said officials might consider mitigations like limiting capacity thresholds at various establishments, similar to what the city did during a major COVID surge last year.
"One option would be limiting the number of people that can attend a bar or restaurant, you know, capping it at 50% perhaps or less," Rosa said.
He added that residents shouldn't be concerned about the potential policy because officials have implemented it across the U.S. "with very good results."
On Monday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that her administration has no plans of enacting an employee vaccine requirement similar to that of New York City, which is set to be the most far-reaching vaccine mandate in the country and will require all private employers in New York City to institute vaccine requirements for their employees later this year.
During a press availability Monday, Lightfoot said that she does not anticipate putting a similar mandate into effect in Chicago, saying that there are real questions over whether such a requirement would pass judicial scrutiny.
“We will not see that here in the city of Chicago,” she said. “And frankly there’s a question of whether something like that is going to sustain what will invariably come as judicial review.”
Lightfoot, whose administration has required all city employees to either be vaccinated against COVID or to submit to bi-weekly testing, says that she appreciates the efforts of numerous businesses and venues to implement a variety of requirements for customers and attendees, including those that require a COVID vaccination or a negative COVID test to enter a place of business.
"I’m encouraged, and I’m encouraging employers of all types to make sure that they’re doing everything they can to maximize safety in their workplaces like we have done," she said.
With COVID cases on the rise, and with the emergence of the omicron variant in the U.S., Lightfoot says that taking steps to encourage vaccinations and social distancing are key to keeping residents safe.
“The pandemic is real. It is not going away," she said. "We are watching with great interest the developments and the science that’s being done around the omicron variant.”