ILLINOIS — Illinois moved into phase 4 of the governor's reopening plan last week, but many residents across the state say they still feel uneasy about leaving their homes. A with county-level coronavirus data might help. Health officials say they hope it will allow local leaders, business owners and the public to make better decisions as they start to head back to stores, restaurants and other public spaces.
Statewide, new coronavirus cases have fallen sharply from their peak in May, and the trend has been relatively flat for the last month. Deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, are also down dramatically across Illinois, from a high approaching 200 deaths per day in mid-May, to less than 30 deaths per day for most of the past week. But nationally, new cases are at an all-time high, largely driven by spikes in states that have flaunted CDC guidance on mask-wearing and social distancing, and closer to home, some Illinois counties are doing better than others.
The website provides information about new cases and clusters of cases, weekly deaths, tests performed, positive test rates, emergency room visits, hospital admissions and ICU capacity. The data is updated weekly and compared against longterm trends and public health targets to determine if a warning should be sounded, officials said.
The website includes a map, with counties color coded to indicate whether they are meeting their targets. Counties in blue are stable, and officials say the risk of reopening there is reasonable. Counties in orange, however, are at higher risk for spikes of the virus, and extra care should be taken to avoid risky activities.
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Currently, only Cass County in central Illinois is orange on the map. Officials say 191 new cases this week per 100,000 residents, a positive test rate of 10.8 percent and insufficient testing are all danger signs for residents there. Compare that to Illinois' overall total of about 43 new cases weekly per 100,000 residents and 2.6 percent positive test rate and the warning becomes more clear.
"If your county is colored orange, that's a caution or a warning that something is going on," said Illinois Department of Public Health director Ngozi Ezike. "And our goal is that, with that caution, you will think twice of your own personal habits and activities."
For example, residents of counties in orange should reconsider hosting large gatherings, dining out or going to a movie, and they should take additional precautions when going to grocery stories, pharmacies or other essential businesses, officials said.
What about Chicago, which saw some of the worst clusters of the virus? While the numbers are higher than the state baseline there — and in suburban Cook County, which is broken out separately on the map — officials say both areas are meeting their targets of less than 50 new cases per week per 100,000 residents, stable or decreasing weekly deaths, and a 10 percent or lower positive test rate.
Chicago currently has 42 new cases weekly per 100,000 residents, 119 weekly deaths and a 5.6 percent positive test rate. The rest of Cook County saw 48 new cases per 100,000 residents this week, 97 new deaths and has a 5.4 percent positive test rate.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said last week that he would not hesitate to move a region back to phase 3 if there is a surge in new cases.
"Ours will not be one of the states that takes no action," he said, adding that the road ahead will be difficult until a vaccine or treatment for the virus is developed.