Union members line up last week for COVID-19 vaccinations at International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399 on the South Side. About 19% of Illinois residents have been fully vaccinated, but the state is facing a third surge of the virus.
Union members line up last week for COVID-19 vaccinations at International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399 on the South Side. About 19% of Illinois residents have been fully vaccinated, but the state is facing a third surge of the virus. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Nearly 600 Chicagoans are testing positive every day on average, a figure that has more than doubled since the start of March. 

A steady, monthlong surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations took its latest troubling step up in Illinois Tuesday as officials reported 2,931 new cases of the virus, and positivity rates soared to levels not seen in months.

The latest infections were diagnosed among 51,625 tests, meaning 5.7% of samples came back positive — the highest proportion of new cases reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health in a single day since Jan. 19.

The state appeared well on its way to snuffing out the pandemic less than a month ago, when most key metrics sank to pandemic lows and a historic vaccination campaign started gaining steam.

But since March 12, Illinois’ seven-day average statewide testing positivity rate has ballooned from 2.1% up to 3.9% — its highest point since Feb. 2. Chicago’s regional positivity rate is even higher, at 5.1%.

At the same time, hospitals statewide have seen a 52% uptick in COVID-19 admissions, with 1,648 beds occupied Monday night.

Nearly 600 Chicagoans are testing positive every day on average, a figure that has more than doubled since the start of March.

Cook County officials warned over the weekend that the region is already “at the beginning of a surge.” It marks the state’s third wave of the virus, following the initial wave that hit last spring and an even more devastating resurgence in November.

New COVID-19 cases by day

Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times

Source: Illinois Department of Public Health

Graph not displaying properly? Click here.

The latest spike comes even as 19% of the state population has been fully vaccinated. How bad it gets depends on whether residents follow the basic protocols that have been in place for over a year, officials say.

“This is a time to double down on what we know works to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the Chicago Department of Public Health said in a statement. “This includes wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing, washing your hands and staying at home as much as you can.”

The virus is claiming an average of 18 Illinois lives per day, but that could soon rise along with growing daily case counts, experts have said. The state reported 13 more deaths Tuesday, including those of two Cook County men in their 40s.

Illinois’ death toll is up to 21,395, among almost 1.3 million residents who’ve tested positive since last March.

With 95,188 COVID-19 vaccinations administered Monday, more than 2.4 million residents have been fully immunized so far. An average of 106,976 shots have gone into arms daily over the past week.

COVID-19 vaccine doses administered by day

Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times

Source: Illinois Department of Public Health

Graph not displaying properly? Click here.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sending another $124 million to the state to bolster vaccination efforts, with about $33 million of that going to Chicago.

About 75% of the money is dedicated to “underserved communities and those disproportionately affected by COVID-19 to help ensure individuals are equitably vaccinated,” according to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office.

“With mass vaccination sites across the state, rural vaccination teams reaching those with less access to healthcare, and partnerships with trusted providers in underserved communities, we have built the infrastructure to end this pandemic as quickly as possible, and these new resources will only help us reach that day even sooner,” Pritzker said in a statement.

Eighty-four of the state’s 102 counties — all outside the Chicago area — have already taken Pritzker up on his OK to open vaccine eligibility to all residents 16 and up in areas where demand has waned. The governor will make eligibility universal across the rest of the state April 12, a week ahead of the latest directive issued by President Joe Biden.

City officials haven’t said when they’ll go ahead with universal vaccine eligibility, but they did update their emergency travel order, which requires people arriving from hot-spot states and territories to show up with proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.

The list of such “orange level” areas still includes about half the nation: New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Florida, Delaware, Connecticut, Colorado, Vermont, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Alaska, Virginia, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Michigan, West Virginia, Maryland, Maine, North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio, and the District of Columbia.

The order doesn’t apply to people who have been fully vaccinated. Any non-essential travel is still discouraged.

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