Local officials hope falling COVID numbers signal surge’s peak; Cases at New Trier reportedly fall 80% in a week

After case counts reached pandemic highs over the past two weeks, the most recent wave of COVID-19 may be subsiding. 

As of Tuesday, Jan. 12, the seven-day positivity rate in New Trier Township communities (Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe, Kenilworth and Northfield) was 10 percent, a significant fall from a high of 16.14 percent eight days prior, on Jan. 4. 

While daily case counts have risen in that timeframe, they have leveled off this week — to 150 new cases per day on Tuesday, Jan. 12, from 163 new cases per day marked on Jan. 9 — even though testing has continued to grow.

Cook County Public Health officials tweeted on Thursday, Jan. 13, that declining positivity rates may be “evidence that Omicron is peaking”; however, the tweet also said that COVID-19 hospitalizations are likely to continue their rise “in the coming weeks.”

Hospitalizations continue to concern officials throughout the state, as a pandemic-high 7,380 COVID-19 patients occupy ICU beds, according to Jan. 12 data from the Illinois Department of Public Health. Locally, 43 percent of ICU beds are available at Evanston Hospital, while zero are open at Amita Health’s Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston, according to a tracker from the New York Times.

Amita Health did not return messages from The Record. 

In early January amid the winter COVID surge, the county instituted additional mitigations for area businesses and venues, requiring them to review proof of vaccination from customers. At that time, on Jan. 3, the positivity rate was 7.8 percent across the county.

At that time, Dr. Rachel Rubin, the health department’s senior medical officer, said: “We are looking at metrics very closely and will be reevaluating this order on a weekly basis. … We need to have these mitigations in place and our hospitals are being stretched very thin right now. We need to see improvements in those metrics.”

The current COVID cases at local schools have also fallen dramatically. 

Many districts, including New Trier High School D203, tested students and staff post-winter break and recorded significant rises in COVID cases. New Trier, for instance, reached 371 reported cases among students and staff on Jan. 7. By Thursday, Jan. 13, however, that number was down to 76.

New Trier Associate Superintendent Chris Johnson told The Record that many individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 have quarantined the required five days and are asymptomatic.

Earlier this week, the Illinois Department of Public Health adopted CDC recommendations to decrease from 10 to 5 the number of days in quarantine for COVID cases. 

Johnson said students and staff who tested positive before their quarantine are not required to test negative to return to campus, as long as they are symptom-free. 

The overall attendance rate at New Trier High School after the first post-winter-break week was 83 percent, Johnson said, adding the number was typically in the low 90s prepandemic.

Johnson also said teacher availability has not been of major concern as “90 percent of classes were taught by their regularly assigned teachers” since winter break. 

“Obviously the surge was difficult for everything and felt across the country, felt across Illinois,” Johnson said. “Through the hard work of our families and staff we were able to continue in-person instruction and that’s largely thanks to the extra work everyone put in — families that followed guidelines and all the testing students and staff did. 

Local elementary districts also tracked COVID declines, with Wilmette District 39 going from 73 to 54 cases over the first two weeks after winter break and Winnetka D36 from more than 100 cases over the final week of December to fewer than 50 last week.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319