Enclosed hiding is highly recommended but still optional in Chicago and in schools as COVID-19 numbers rise

Chicago health officials announced Friday that indoor disguise is again “highly recommended” — but not required — in the city where the risk of COVID-19 infection has increased in Cook County.

Chicago’s public health commissioner, Dr. Alison Arwady, offered advice after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deemed Cook County to be at the “medium” risk level for community transmission. The metrics are based on a combination of new cases and hospital admissions, but the median category is automatically reached if weekly cases exceed 200 positive tests per 100,000 residents.

Arwady stressed that while the district was in the medium risk category, the city is nowhere near re-authorization of indoor masking or proof of vaccination, although Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Transportation Authority are also encouraging indoor concealment.

“Chicago’s transition to Intermediate doesn’t do that It means a citywide mask mandate, restrictions on public gatherings, or reinstatement of vaccination requirements at this time,” Arwady said in a statement. 19 high – which we’re not even close to in Chicago at the moment.”

At CPS, staff and parents received a letter from CPS CEO Pedro Martinez stating that the district “will continue to aggressively encourage the use of masks in our schools,” especially among unvaccinated students, but will not regain the mask mandate it dropped in March. In the letter, Martinez said the College of Veterinary Medicine will follow the recommendations of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

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

Last month, Arwady suggested that setting the medium level could lead to a reauthorization of the mask at CPS, but she said this week only if there is a high risk any form of mask requirement will be put in place.

Technically, last week, the city of Chicago was at 195 new cases per 100,000 residents — just below the 200-case threshold. But Arwady said the city will follow Cook County if the county breaks 200 cases per 100,000 first. Cook County has 259 cases per 100,000 residents, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, hospitalizations for COVID-19 and ICU capacity remain low for both the city and county.

The developments come one week after suburban Cook County areas reached the medium risk level, prompting officials to also recommend hiding enclosed spaces, and with COVID-19 numbers soaring across Illinois.

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

While the CDC only tracks its community levels on a county-by-county basis, Illinois as a whole has a weekly case rate of 240 per 100,000 residents. In addition to Cook County, all five collar counties and eight other counties in northern and central Illinois are now in the middle, with older residents and those with compromised immune systems encouraged to wear masks indoors.

However, Amal Tokars, acting director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said in a statement Friday that the agency “will confirm that this is (not) a cause for concern.”

She said people at greater risk of serious outcomes from COVID should “be careful,” and everyone should make sure they keep up with their vaccinations.

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 statewide, up from 515 the previous month. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 reached an all-time high of 7,380 on Jan. 12, the peak of the winter wave driven by the omicron variable.

Deaths have remained low, with the state averaging seven deaths a day over the past week, including seven reported on Friday. In all, the statewide death toll has reached 33,660 since the pandemic began.

Dan Petrella contributed from the Chicago Tribune.