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By DAVID CAMPHOUSE
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) on Friday reported 33,066 new confirmed and probable cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Illinois, including 59 deaths since July 8.
According to the CDC, 50 counties are now rated at High Community Level for COVID-19, an area that includes most of the counties in northern Illinois as well as counties around Peoria, Champaign, Springfield and Quincy. An additional 44 counties in Illinois are now rated at Medium Community Level.
According to the CDC’s website, Scott County is currently categorized at the Medium Community Level. Neighboring Pike County is at High Community Level.
According to Pike County Department of Public Health Director of Nursing Sharon Bargmann, the actual levels of COVID-19 infections are likely higher than reported, because of the prevalence of home testing.
“You don’t know the exact numbers,” Bargmann said. “It’s like a home pregnancy test.”
Currently, IDPH is reporting a total of 3,496,014 cases, including 34,257 deaths, in 102 counties in Illinois since the beginning of the pandemic.
As of last Thursday, 1,424 individuals in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 152 patients were in the ICU and 42 patients with COVID-19 were on ventilators. The preliminary seven-day statewide case rate is 260 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 Illinoisans.
“With 94 counties now rated at Medium or High Community Level for COVID-19, we are seeing a slow but steady increase in case counts,” said IDPH Acting Director Amaal Tokars. “We remind Illinoisans that the most important step they can take to protect themselves and their loved ones is to make sure they are up-to-date with vaccines and booster shots. This is especially important for people who are vulnerable to serious medical outcomes. It is recommended that you wear your mask in indoor public places and avoid indoor crowded spaces at this time. If needed, contact a healthcare provider promptly to discuss what treatment is right for you.”
Bargmann stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, even though many mitigation efforts have been relaxed by the government.
“It’s going to continue, because no one wants to deal with it,” Bargmann said. “If people really want it to be over they need to wear a mask and get vaccinated.”
Director Tokars is also urging parents and guardians to take the steps necessary to get children vaccinated, especially small children under 5 for whom COVID-19 vaccines were recommended by the CDC on June 18. Tokars said that IDPH is supporting an education and outreach campaign by the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to educate healthcare providers and parents about the effectiveness and safety of the newly authorized vaccines for children under 5.
The counties listed at High Community Level are Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Lake, McHenry, Will, Boone, Bureau, LaSalle, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson and Winnebago in Northern Illinois; Adams, Cass, Champaign, Christian, Clark, Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Edgar, Fulton, Knox, Livingston, Logan, Marshall, McDonough, Menard, Peoria, Pike, Putnam, Sangamon, Schuyler, Tazewell, Vermillion and Warren in central Illinois; Alexander, Bond, Calhoun, Franklin, Jackson, Jersey, Madison, Marion, Perry, Pulaski, Union, Wabash and Williamson in Southern Illinois.
The CDC recommends the following measures for people in areas that are rated at High Community Level for COVID-19 transmission:
■ Wear a well-fitting mask indoors in public, regardless of vaccination status (including in K-12 schools and other indoor community settings)
If you are immunocompromised or high risk for severe disease:
■ Wear a mask or respirator that provides you with greater protection
■ Consider avoiding non-essential indoor activities in public where you could be exposed
■ Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you need to take other precautions
■ Have a plan for rapid testing if needed (e.g., having home tests or access to testing)
IF YOU TEST POSITIVE: Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you are a candidate for treatments like oral antivirals, and monoclonal antibodies
If you have household or social contact with someone at high risk for severe disease:
■ Consider self-testing to detect infection before contact
■ Consider wearing a mask when indoors with them
■ Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters
■ Maintain improved ventilation throughout indoor spaces when possible
Follow CDC recommendations for isolation and quarantine, including getting tested if you are exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19
At the Medium Community Level, persons who are elderly or immunocompromised (at risk of severe outcomes) are advised to wear a mask in indoor public places. In addition, they should make sure to get up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines or get their second booster, if eligible.
IDPH has been supporting pharmacies and healthcare providers in efforts to increase their inventories of the various FDA-authorized treatments. There are over 1,200 treatment locations in Illinois – including all the major retail pharmacies. More than 96.7 percent of the state’s population is within a 10-mile radius of one of these locations.
A total of 22,804,249 vaccines have been administered in Illinois. The seven-day rolling average of vaccines administered daily is 11,154 doses. Since July 8, 78,081 doses were reported administered in Illinois. Of Illinois’ total population, more than 76 percent has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, more than 69 percent of Illinois’ total population is fully vaccinated, and more than 53 percent of the vaccinated population has an initial booster according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data indicates that the risk of hospitalization and severe outcomes from COVID-19 is much higher for unvaccinated people than for those who are up to date on their vaccinations.
All data are provisional and are subject to change. Additional information and COVID-19 data can be found at www.dph.illinois.gov/covid19.
Vaccination is the key to ending this pandemic. To find a COVID-19 vaccination location near you, go to www.vaccines.gov.
The federal government has established a new website that provides an all-purpose toolkit with information on how to obtain masks, treatment, vaccines and testing resources for all areas of the country at: www.covid.gov.
Pritzker announces new IDPH pick, further scales back COVID-19 orders
By JERRY NOWICKI
Illinois will soon have a new Department of Public Health director and its first electric vehicles coordinator after Gov. JB Pritzker announced those appointments in recent days.
Dr. Sameer Vohra, a Springfield pediatrician, will still need approval from the state Senate to become the permanent replacement for former Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, who retired as the state’s health director to lead Sinai Health System, a nonprofit safety net hospital.
Until then he will serve in an “acting” capacity.
Vohra is a general pediatrician who holds degrees in law and public policy, with a recent focus on improving health outcomes in central and southern Illinois, according to the governor’s office. He serves as an associate professor of pediatrics at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, where he received his medical doctorate.
Vohra said in a news release he was humbled by the announcement.
“Gov. Pritzker, along with the dedicated staff of IDPH, have served our state admirably during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “I am honored to lead this agency into the future, continuing to keep us safe from emerging illnesses, supporting our public health workers, and promoting wellness in every community across Illinois.”
Vohra’s job, which will officially begin Aug. 1, comes with a salary of $185,673. At that time, he will replace Amaal Tokars, an Ezike deputy who has been filling the post since the former director’s departure. She’ll remain an assistant director.
Vohra completed a residency in pediatrics and a Master of Arts in public policy at the University of Chicago, and has a juris doctorate from SIU School of Law, where he graduated first in his class. He completed his undergraduate studies at Northwestern University.
“Dr. Vohra is accomplished in every sense of the word,” Pritzker said in a statement announcing the appointment. “His experience and education transcend sectors and fields, bringing a well-rounded perspective to this agency. As a leader in state and national health policy, I have absolute confidence in Dr. Vohra’s ability to continue shaping a stronger IDPH for the 21st century.”
Pritzker’s announcement of a new IDPH director came as he continued to scale back the scope of his executive orders related to a COVID-19 disaster declaration that has been ongoing in 30-day periods since March 2020.
His latest executive order, issued Tuesday, decreased the level of testing required for unvaccinated health care workers.
Unvaccinated workers at skilled nursing facilities, homes for the developmentally disabled and other long-term care facilities will be required to test weekly only when COVID-19 transmission levels are at a moderate level, and twice weekly at substantial or high levels as classified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Testing is not required where transmission levels are low, according to the governor’s order.
For hospitals and other facilities, weekly testing is required where transmission levels are high, while no testing is required in areas of lower transmission.
As of Thursday, the COVID-19 transmission level, a metric based on new cases per 100,000 individuals over the previous seven days, was high in all of the state’s 102 counties, according to the CDC. The level was only considered “low” in 1.4 percent of the entire U.S.
The latest executive order does not reissue vaccine mandates for emergency services personnel or higher education employees or students.
Mandates will remain in place at K-12 schools and day cares.
Pritzker’s latest disaster declaration runs through July 24, and he noted in a June 30 interview with Capitol News Illinois he plans to continue to issue the orders while ramping down their scope.
“We have significantly reduced the number of things that fall under our executive orders with regard to COVID,” he said. “In fact, if you look back every month, a little bit less, a little bit less, we’re ramping down things. Some of them are hugely important to keep people safe even now. And we’re not entirely out of the pandemic. So, we want to make sure that we’re helping people as we ramp down the executive orders. Most importantly, what we’ve done has worked, we’ve kept thousands of people alive, who otherwise would have passed away.”
As of Friday, there were 71 counties at medium or high COVID-19 community level in Illinois, a different metric than the “transmission” levels noted in the executive order. Community level takes into account rates of transmission, as well as new COVID-19 hospital admissions and the number of staffed beds available.
There were 1,342 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday night, up about 200-300 from the same time last month but still far off the pandemic highs of January, when more than 7,000 Illinoisans were hospitalized. COVID-19 patients occupied 150 intensive care unit beds, also far below pandemic highs when more than 1,200 ICU beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients.
Included in the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act energy reform which passed last year was a requirement that the state hire an electric vehicles coordinator within the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
On July 1, Megha Lakhchaura was appointed to that role at a salary of $180,000 annually. She’ll lead the state’s push to put 1 million EVs on state roads by 2030 through a number of incentives in state law and the rollout of expanded charging infrastructure.
She previously served since 2018 as the director of policy in North America for EVBox, an electric vehicle supply equipment company based in Amsterdam. Prior to that she was policy director for the rooftop solar and battery storage provider Sunrun Inc., and was a public utilities regulatory analyst for the California Public Utilities Commission.
■ Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.