CHICAGO — Illinois health officials announced two south suburban counties can ease some coronavirus mitigations including a return of indoor dining Thursday, while regions across the state are seeing a lessening of restrictions as COVID-19 rates drop.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 4,979 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 as well as 123 additional deaths Thursday.
The state continues to see a declining number of cases and deaths on average, while the 7-day case positivity rate of 5.4% reported Thursday is the lowest since the state saw a spike in cases begin in late October.
Kankakee and Will counties are grouped together under the state’s “South Suburban” or “Region 7,” which has seen its 7-day COVID-19 test positivity rate drop to 7.4% as of Sunday.
Since this rate remains below 8% and the region also meets state criteria on the number of patients hospitalized with Covid and ICU bed availability, it qualifies for rolling back some added restrictions which were put in place during the October surge.
Under “Tier 1,” the region can most notably allow indoor dining to return at restaurants and bars that serve food. This is in addition to reopening entertainment venues and cultural institutions like museums, increasing limits on group sizes and a resuming sports and other recreational activities.
Restaurant owners like Jason Morales, who owns Mora Asian Kitchen in Bolingbrook, are estastic at the return of indoor dining.
“It’s been really rough,” he said. “Sales have been down an average of 60%, even when things were normal, people were still scared to go out.”
As of Thursday, the rest of the Chicago area is under “Tier 2” mitigations, however every region is reporting an average test positivity rate either near or below 8%. To move to Tier 1 they would need to report a rate below (not equal to) 8% for three days in a row.
The City of Chicago saw a 7-day positivity rate of 7.8% as of January 28, according to the state, suggesting the city could be two days away from seeing a return of indoor dining as well. The West Suburban Region and Greater Cook County also saw rates just below 8% as of Thursday.
By its own accounting, the Chicago Department of Public Health reported a 7-day positivity rate of 7.7% for a second consecutive day Thursday. While the numbers don’t always match with the state’s due to delays and other issues, the trends often remain the same.
According to Chicago health officials, the city is averaging 906 confirmed cases and 13 deaths a day over the course of a week.
Also Thursday, health officials announced Region 6 is returning to Phase 4. It is known as the East-Central Region and includes the counties Champaign, Clark, Clay, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, De Witt, Douglas, Edgar, Effingham, Fayette, Ford, Iroquois, Jasper, Lawrence, Macon, Moultrie, Piatt, Richland, Shelby and Vermillion.
Phase 4 also allows indoor dining with groups up to 10 people. And more indoor recreation to open at higher capacity, including bowling, skating and indoor playgrounds. Group fitness classes can increase to 50 percent capacity and gatherings can include as many as 50 people.
The Metro East Region outside St. Louis is the only region in the state that remains in “Tier 3” mitigations, but state health officials said Thursday it is “on track” to move to Tier 2 as it has seen two out of the three days needed with over 20% availability in hospital ICUs.
While the rate at which vaccines are being administered has been declining for the past few days, it ticked up Thursday as the IDPH reported a 7-day average of 22,585 doses, including 34,649 given yesterday. To date, 572,389 doses have been administered and 120,944 people in Illinois are fully vaccinated.