Wilmette, News

COVID numbers continue to retreat but vaccine-card mandate must stay a bit longer, county health officials say

One month after engaging a proof-of-vaccination requirement for business patrons, county officials have begun talking about lifting the order.

But don’t expect that to happen in the immediate future.

During an “Ask the Doctor” forum hosted by Cook County Department of Public Health on Wednesday, Feb 2, the department’s top doc Kiran Joshi predicted a “few more weeks” of the increased mitigations as COVID-19 numbers continue their retreat.

“I don’t (think) that is this week or the next; I think we need to see a few more weeks of sustained improvement in the indicators,” said Joshi, referring to data such as hospitalizations, ICU-bed availability, positivity rate and more.

Joshi also said the county is in constant communication with the City of Chicago’s health department to ensure measures are uniform across Cook County. Throughout the pandemic, the two health departments have been in sync with COVID-19 guidelines and mitigation efforts.

Dr. Allison Arwady, who leads the Chicago health department, said at a news conference on Tuesday, Feb. 1, that the city’s mask and proof-of-vaccination mandates may be gone “quite soon,” as reported by Block Club Chicago.

Joshi said at the virtual event that officials constantly review data with a top priority of keeping residents safe, “especially the most vulnerable.” In his department’s coverage area, which is all of suburban Cook County, COVID-19 numbers — such as positivity rate and new-case rate — have steadily fallen for two weeks, while more recently hospitalization numbers have also improved.

While recognizing the improvement, Joshi also mentioned the discovery of a subvariant of COVID-19’s Omicron variant as a reason to prolong the mitigation efforts.

During the event, Joshi was joined by Dr. Nimmi Rajagopal, a leader in family and community medicine for the department. Rajagopal answered questions about vaccines and masks, including explaining the best practices with the different types of masks.

“Omicron woke us up to a few things (about masks) because it’s more easily transmissible,” she said. “The key is we need people to mask and keep the masks on, wear them right. If an N95 mask is too much, then layer with a surgical mask and cloth mask. Every protection counts.”

Vaccine manufacturers are seeking the an emergency use authorization from the FDA for children under 5 years old. County health officials could not give a timeline for when the vaccine may be available locally.

Charts showing two key COVID-19 metrics over time in Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe, Kenilworth and Northfield.

In the county, the average positivity rate was 7.1 percent on Jan. 31. It was 7.4 percent when the mitigations were put in place on Jan. 3.

More locally, New Trier Township communities (Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe, Kenilworth and Northfield) are seeing about 80 percent fewer COVID cases per day (32.4 as of Feb. 2) than were recorded four weeks ago (150 on Jan. 12), and the positivity rate has fallen from a surge high of 16.14 percent on Jan. 4 to 4.62 percent on Feb. 2.

The surge’s disruption in the classroom has also waned. 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. That number was down to 13 on Wednesday, Feb. 3.

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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

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