Nurses look through a window as they check on a man with COVID-19 last year in the Intensive Care Unit at Roseland Community Hospital. Illinois recorded its worst one-day coronavirus death toll in nearly six months Wednesday. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The virus has killed 241 residents statewide so far this month, the vast majority most of whom were unvaccinated. 

As Illinois’ Delta variant-fueled COVID-19 surge shows some possible signs of flagging, public health officials on Wednesday announced the state’s worst daily coronavirus death toll in almost seven months.

The 62 fatalities reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health were the most in a day since Feb. 19, when vaccines were scarce and the state was still coming down from its worst surge of the pandemic.

The virus has claimed an average of 31 lives each day over the last week, nearly matching the worst death rate during Illinois’ most recent previous resurgence in the spring.

The state is likely to soon surpass that figure as coronavirus hospitalizations hover near a seven-month high, too. COVID-19 patients were occupying 2,327 beds statewide Tuesday night.

Experts consider hospitalizations and deaths to be “lagging indicators” of the pandemic because it takes several weeks for a rise in cases to develop into more serious infections that end in tragedy.

So even if case numbers are flattening — as Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said he’s “hopeful” is occurring — Illinois is still feeling the devastating effects of a tenfold spike in infections since the beginning of July. The virus has killed 241 residents so far this month, the vast majority most of whom were unvaccinated.

New COVID-19 deaths by day

Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times

Source: Illinois Department of Public Health

Graph not displaying properly? Click here.

Prtizker has pointed to a slowing of growth in new hospital admissions as cause for cautious optimism. Additionally, the seven-day average statewide case positivity rate has held steady at 4.5% — its lowest point in a month — for three straight days, suggesting that community transmission is slowing slightly.

Transmission is still considered high across the entire state under metrics set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as it is in more than 95% of all counties nationwide.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file
Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a daily COVID-19 briefing at the James R. Thompson Center in November.

That’s why city officials are asking unvaccinated travelers to quarantine upon arriving in Chicago from anywhere out of state.

Vermont had been the only state not considered a hot spot on the city’s travel COVID-19 advisory list, but it too has surpassed the threshold of 15 daily cases per 100,000 residents, meaning the advisory extends across all of the U.S. Connecticut, New Hampshire and Washington D.C. are on pace to be removed from the list next week, though.

Chicago’s averaging about 17 cases per 100,000 residents per day, a rate that “really has flattened out,” city Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Tuesday. The citywide positivity rate has fallen from 4.3% to 3.8% since last week.

“My worry remains not so much for those who are vaccinated, but for those who are unvaccinated, because the vaccines continue to do really well against hospitalization and death,” she said.

About 78% of Illinois residents 12 or older have gotten a shot, with 60% fully vaccinated. Just over 71% of eligible Chicagoans have gotten a shot, but vaccination rates lag in the 40%-range in some South and West side neighborhoods — down to just 39.6% in the 60633 ZIP code on the Far South Side, the lowest in the city.

Officials are offering $100 in Visa gift cards to those who roll up their sleeves at city-run mobile vaccination events, or who sign up for in-home shot appointments at (312) 746-4835.

For help finding a shot in suburban Cook County, visit cookcountypublichealth.org or call (833) 308-1988. To find other Illinois providers, visit coronavirus.illinois.gov or call (833) 621-1284.

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