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A crowd waits to enter a free COVID testing center in Brookfield. (Photo by Steve Metsch)

A crowd waits to enter a free COVID testing center in Brookfield. (Photo by Steve Metsch)

New county mandate to combat COVID surge

Restaurants, fitness centers, venues will be required to check vaccination status on Jan. 3

By Bob Bong

The latest surge of COVID cases has people flocking to testing centers to see if they have the virus and those that definitely have it threatening to overwhelm local hospitals.

The Illinois Department of Public Health last Friday reported 77,246 new confirmed and probable cases of coronavirus disease in Illinois, including an increase of 318 deaths since December 17.

In an effort to help stop the surge, the Cook County Department of Public Health has issued a new order requiring establishments that serve food or drink on-site along with health and fitness centers and other public venues to check the vaccination status of patrons and to allow entry only for fully-vaccinated people 5 and older. It also requires employees of businesses to be vaccinated or to provide a weekly negative COVID test.

BobbyRush

Congressman Bobby Rush announced he had contracted COVID-19.

Businesses are required to post signage that advises their patrons of this requirement at the public entrances of the business. Businesses must also develop a written plan to document how they will enforce the order.

The vaccination status order goes into effect on Monday, January 3, in suburban Cook County.

Local hospitals and health departments will get help from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to meet the healthcare demand during a COVID-19 surge, adding staffing to provide medical care and provide vaccines and testing.

The state will also help ramp up COVID-19 testing, now operating six days a week beginning Jan. 3 to increase availability.

“We are also increase testing and continuing to distribute monoclonal antibodies, anti-viral pills and any treatments or personal protective equipment communities need,” Gov. JB Pritzker said during a news conference Monday. “I will continue to do everything possible to protect all the people of this state, whatever your vaccine status. But what kind of year 2022 turns out to be depends on all of us doing what is best for all of us.”

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike confirmed that Illinois is seeing higher hospitalization rates. The state is now averaging 500 hospital admissions a day due to COVID-19. While Illinois was still battling the Delta variant of COVID-19, the Omicron variant was introduced a couple of weeks ago. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier this month that the Omicron variant is the dominate strain of COVID-19 in the U.S. with more than 73 percent of new cases attributable to the variant.

To protect from the COVID-19, harm reduction strategies will still need to be employed, Ezike said, like wearing masks, social distancing, hand-washing and staying away from large crowds.

“We have a vaccine that is highly effective at preventing severe illness and death,” Ezike said. “Currently, we are seeing a demand for booster doses, but it is critically important for those who have yet to receive even one dose of vaccine to get vaccinated.”

The vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated, Ezike said.

Community-based testing sites will be open Monday through Saturday in Aurora, Arlington Heights, South Holland, Fairview Heights, Peoria, Bloomington, Champaign, Harwood Heights, Rockford and Waukegan.

As of December 22, 4,271 individuals in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 867 patients were in the ICU and 485 patients with COVID-19 were on ventilators.

The preliminary seven-day statewide positivity for cases as a percent of total test from December 16-22, 2021 is 6.3%. The preliminary seven-day statewide test positivity from December 16-22, 2021 is 8.6%.

An increase in positive cases was also confirmed in Stickney Township.

According to Louis S. Viverito, Stickney Township Public Health District President, the seven-day average of daily positive cases has increased across the township with some areas more than doubling since October.

As of December 9, the positivity rate across the township ranged from 4.5% to 8.3%.

“The biggest concern now is to not overwhelm the healthcare system by taking steps to avoid spreading COVID,” said Louis Viverito, president of the Stickney Township Public Health District.

The surge has emptied local pharmacies of at-home COVID tests and there are long lines at the many testing centers as people line up to see if they have been infected.

Hundreds of flights at O’Hare and Midway airports have been cancelled due to the surge.

Among the newly infected are two area lawmakers.

Southwest Side state Rep. Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar said she had tested positive for COVID-19.“After experiencing mild symptoms over the weekend, I have tested positive for COVID-19,” she said. “Thankfully, I am fully vaccinated and continue to experience only mild symptoms. I will isolate at home until I recover. In the meantime, I have canceled all events. I urge everyone to get vaccinated and boosted, get tested frequently, and continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing. That’s how we will keep our loved ones and communities safe.”

Congressman Bobby Rush also tested positive, his office announced late Monday evening.

“After being notified of a recent exposure, I tested positive with a breakthrough case of COVID-19,” Rush said in a statement.

“Fortunately, I am fully vaccinated and recently received my booster shot. I am feeling fine and currently have no symptoms. I will be quarantining and following the latest guidance from the CDC and the Chicago Department of Public Health.”

Rush, 75, encouraged everyone to get vaccinated and get a booster shot as soon as possible.

The Office of the Chief Judge for Cook County announced Tuesday that two judges and 37 employees have tested positive for COVID-19. In addition, one employee tested positive for the second time.

One of the judges was from the Bridgeview Courthouse as well as two adult probation workers at the Bridgeview Courthouse.

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