Interior masks are “highly recommended”, but remain optional in Chicago and schools as COVID-19 – Chicago Tribune numbers increase

Chicago health officials announced Friday that indoor masking is once again “highly recommended,” but not mandatory, in the city, as the risk of contracting COVID-19 in Cook County has increased.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady issued the warning after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considered that Cook County was now at the “medium” level of community-transmitted risk. Metrics are based on a combination of new cases and hospitalizations, but the average category is automatically reached if weekly cases exceed 200 positive tests per 100,000 residents.

Arwady stressed that while the county was in the middle risk category, the city is not close to reinstating mandates for indoor masking or vaccination testing, although Chicago public schools and the Authority Chicago traffic jams are also “encouraging” indoor masking.

“Chicago goes to the middle level no “It means a city-wide masked mandate, restrictions on public meetings, or the resumption of vaccination requirements right now,” Arwady said in a statement. measures that we would take into account if we reached the high level of the COVID-19 community, which right now we are not close to reaching in Chicago. “

At CPS, employees and parents received a letter from CPS CEO Pedro Martinez stating that the district “will continue to encourage the use of masks in our schools,” especially among unvaccinated students, but will not restore the mask mandate he left in March. Martinez said in the letter that CPS will follow the recommendations of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Martinez noted that the positivity rate for the COVID-19 testing program at the district school is 0.68%, while the city’s positivity rate is 3.9%. The positivity rate of 0.68% is the highest for the district testing program since January, near the end of the highly contagious omicron variant. The number of CPS cases has been on the rise since students returned from spring break last month.

Last month, Arwady suggested that a mid-level appointment could lead to a reshuffle of a masked mandate in CPS, but this week he said that only in case of high risk will any form of mask requirement be put in place.

Technically last week, the city of Chicago stood at 195 new cases per 100,000 residents, just below the 200-case threshold. But Arwady said the city would follow Cook County if the county first broke 200 cases per 100,000. Cook County has 259 cases per 100,000 population, according to CDC data. However, hospitalizations for COVID-19 and ICU capacity remain low for both the city and the county.

Advances come a week after suburban areas of Cook County reached the medium risk level, prompting officials to also recommend indoor masking and as COVID-19 numbers increase for Illinois.

Statewide, health officials reported 7,709 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 on Friday, a level not seen since early February. Over the past week, the state has averaged 4,376 new cases per day, more than the average of 1,426 daily cases just a month ago.

While the CDC only tracks its community-by-county community levels, Illinois as a whole has a weekly case rate of 240 per 100,000 residents. In addition to Cook County, the five neck counties and eight other counties in northern and central Illinois are now at a mid-level level, where older residents and those with compromised immune systems are advised to wear masks. the interior.

However, Amaal Tokars, acting director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said in a statement Friday that the agency “would stress that this (is) not a cause for alarm.”

Those at higher risk for serious COVID outcomes should “take caution” and everyone should make sure they are up to date on their vaccines, he said.

The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19, while still relatively low, is also increasing statewide.

As of Thursday night, there were 808 COVID-19 patients in hospitals across the state, up from 515 the month before. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 reached an all-time high of 7,380 on January 12, the peak of the winter rise driven by the omicron variant.

Deaths have remained low, averaging seven per day in the state over the past week, including seven Fridays. In all, the statewide death toll is 33,660 since the pandemic began.

Dan Petrella of the Chicago Tribune contributed.

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