CHICAGO — Areas including the City of Chicago, greater Cook County as well as the west and north suburbs will join many other regions in moving to less-restrictive coronavirus mitigation measures after the State of Illinois updated its metrics for reopening Monday.
In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Illinois health officials said they will no longer take the availability of non-ICU hospital beds into account when determining if a region can move to a lower “Tier” of mitigation measures.
The immediate effect of this change is it allows the regions which include Chicago as well as Cook, McHenry, Lake, DuPage and Kane counties to move to “Tier 2” mitigation measures immediately.
While those regions previously saw COVID-19 test positivity rates which were low enough to move to Tier 2, they fell short when it came to having a “surge” capacity of at least 20% of non-intensive care beds available at area hospitals.
Moving forward, the Illinois Department of Public Health said it would remove this requirement and would instead offer additional assistance to hospitals if they begin to see a low availability of hospital beds.
“Hospital leaders have made clear the importance of staffing in their continued response to this pandemic and conveyed that staffing contracts will be extraordinarily valuable in their ability to meet the needs of their communities,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in the statement.
Under Tier 2, “cultural institutions” like museums as well as casinos will be allowed to reopen, guidelines on group sizes will be expanded beyond households to 10 people or less and sports and other recreational activities can resume.
Every region in the Chicago area has seen a steady decline in their COVID-19 test positivity rates and posted a 7-day average of less than 9% as of January 15. This rate needs to decline below 8% for three consecutive days for the region to move to “Tier 1,” when some indoor dining at bars and restaurants would be allowed.
Earlier Monday, IDPH reported 3,385 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases as well as 50 additional deaths. The state continues to see a downward trend in new infections, with the current 7-day average of 5,500 cases approaching the level seen before a rise which began after the Christmas holiday.
While the number of tests performed on average in Illinois remains around 94,000 a day, also near levels seen before the Christmas holiday, the 7-day case positivity rate has continued to decline to reach 5.9% as of Monday.
Several other regions across the state will also see a lessening of coronavirus restrictions, state health officials said, as they meet the new metrics based on their 7-day test positivity rates, number of COVID-19 patients and availability of Intensive Care Unit hospital beds.
The West-Central Region will see the most dramatic change. While it was previously in the most-restrictive “Tier 3,” it met the requirements for moving all the way back to “Phase 4” of reopening. The Southern Illinois region will also return to Phase 4.
Additionally, the North Region and East-Central Region will go to “Tier 1,” which allows for restaurants and bars that serve food to reopen indoor dining. Over the weekend, the North-Central region also went to Tier 1.
In addition to allowing some businesses to reopen or allow customers inside, lower tiers allow for higher capacity limits for businesses. Indoor service at bars which do not serve food can only resume after a return to Phase 4.
Only the South Suburban Region and the Metro East Region outside St. Louis remain in the most-restrictive “Tier 3.”
Hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19 are trending down statewide, with IDPH reporting 3,345 hospitalizations as of Sunday night including 705 in intensive care and 392 on ventilators. However, the vast majority of non-ICU beds are occupied by patients who are not diagnosed with COVID-19.
While COVID-19 vaccinations continue across the state, the rate at which doses are being administered appears to have been declining in recent days. The IDPH reported a 7-day average of 22,856 as of Monday, down from a peak of around 25,000 seen on Friday.
To date, Illinois health officials say the state has received 1,085,750 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, while 495,563 have been administered statewide. Of the 304,000 doses which were set aside for Walgreens and CVS to administer to residents at long-term care facilities, 66,679 have been administered to date.