Sixteen months into the pandemic, COVID-19 case counts in Illinois are higher than they were a year ago.
Hospitalizations and deaths are lower than at this time last year, however, with health officials crediting the vaccines.
Now, the state is averaging 1,669 new cases a day for the week, Illinois Department of Public Health records show. During the same seven-day period last year, the state was averaging 1,424 new cases each day.
The state’s seven-day case positivity rate of 4% also is also higher than it was a year ago, when it was 3.8%.
But the biggest difference between the end of July this year versus that point last year are the hospitalizations and deaths caused by the virus.
Last year, IDPH was reporting an average of 15 deaths and 1,421 hospitalizations a day for the week that ended July 30. Now, deaths are averaging six a day and hospitalizations are down by almost half, averaging 796 per day this week.
Health officials are blaming the recent rise in cases on the increased prevalence of the highly contagious delta variant of the virus.
High vaccinations rates among some of the most vulnerable populations are keeping hospitalizations and deaths lower, they said.
More than 80% of Illinois residents 65 and older, considered by health officials to be the most vulnerable population, are fully vaccinated, according to IDPH records.
“The main individuals that have not been vaccinated to this point predominantly are in their younger decades of life,” said Dr. Rachel Rubin, co-lead senior medical officer at the Cook County Department of Public Health. “These are generally individuals who overall have a lower proportion of chronic disease and illness, and are less likely to have severe cases of COVID.”
Dr. Jonathan Pinsky, medical director of infection control and prevention at Edward Hospital in Naperville, echoed Rubin’s analysis, noting that the median age for his hospital’s COVID-19 patients these days is 46 and all of the patients under 65 are unvaccinated.
“The mortality and hospitalizations being lower is a reflection of the younger age of the people getting infected. It doesn’t mean the virus is any less transmissible,” he said.
The effects of vaccinations on hospitalizations and deaths are showing up statistically as well. In June, IDPH officials reported 87% of the new cases diagnosed were unvaccinated individuals, 87% of those hospitalized were unvaccinated, and 92% of the more than 400 deaths were unvaccinated residents.
“The vast majority of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths are among unvaccinated,” said IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold. “COVID-19 vaccines are effective.”
Also adding to the rise in cases now is the lack of regulations that were in place this time last year that limited capacity in most businesses and at social gatherings, health officials said. A year ago, restaurants were limited to 25% capacity indoors. Now there are no capacity limits.
Rubin said she is hopeful businesses will begin to require masks again in the wake of a recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory recommending that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors at public settings in places where the transmission risk is high or substantial.
Most of Illinois and the suburbs fit into those categories, but there’s been no mandate for mask use at indoor settings by local or state health officials or the governor. The Cook County health department on Friday joined in the CDC recommendations.
“At this point it’s an advisory,” she said. “The ability and desire to enforce indoor masking at all of our facilities now is really a daunting task to be able to monitor these places. We’re really hoping for community support from employers, management, workers, clients and guests in all the open venues we have in the public space. In the future we can investigate putting in place a legal order.”
IDPH officials reported Friday another 24,133 doses of vaccine have been administered statewide.
That brings the total number of vaccine shots administered in the state to 13,211,304, with providers averaging 22,064 inoculations a day over the past week, IDPH records indicate.
Meanwhile, IDPH officials reported eight more COVID-19 deaths, while 2,348 new cases of the disease were diagnosed.
The state’s death toll from the virus is now at 23,440, with 1,419,611 Illinois residents who have tested positive.
Illinois hospitals are currently treating 903 COVID-19 patients, 167 of whom are in intensive care.