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The Coronavirus, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and You

Because the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) numbers surged so tremendously and for so long during fall and winter –and remain somewhat high– this historic public health crisis has grown to an extent never before seen in our region and country. COVID-19 numbers in Chicago and Cook County declined enough so that Illinois measurement regions advanced to Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois COVID-19 reopening plan. Additional easing of restrictions on gatherings followed. This is good progress, but it meant only that most overall numbers were back to levels of last summer. Then, progress stopped and key numbers in our area again went up considerably, so getting vaccinated remains of tremendous importance and continued mask-wearing and other precautions are necessary – even as vaccinations increase.

Some numbers have again trended downward in recent weeks and additional reopening is happening; Governor Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot are targeting July for the full reopening of Illinois and Chicago. The Governor will move the state into the more open “Bridge” period between Phases 4 and 5 this Friday (May 14th).

As officials and healthcare professionals at the national level, in the State of Illinois and our county address the virus and issue daily updates, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) continues to work with those stakeholders. We also remain committed to regularly updating you with key information. We are taking the best approach to the safety and security of CCSO staff and everyone with whom we interact in the Cook County Department of Corrections (CCDOC), at Cook County Courthouses and other public facilities and in our communities.

It has been proven that face masks, social distancing, washing hands/hygienic care and other measures listed below help in the battle against COVID-19. That’s why such careful behavior remains critical in effectively fighting the coronavirus. Meanwhile, extensive testing continues (now more than 23.59 million tests in Illinois) and Cook County and Illinois are again at a crossroads: Will progress resume or will upward trends lead to another spike? The major cause of any increases is, simply, the failure of people to follow basic precautions such as wearing a mask and not attending large gatherings, especially indoors. Regardless of vaccination, precautions remain necessary.

Illinois, with a population of approximately 12.7 million, has 1,361,666 cases of people who have or previously had virus. Sadly, COVID-19 has taken 22,320 lives in our state, including more than 10,470 in Cook County. For most of November-December, Illinois had totaled more new cases than any other state. The number of deaths reported in November-December were 260% higher than those in October; the 238 new deaths reported for one day in December 2nd were Illinois’ most ever in a single day. An average of 150 deaths were reported daily for 12 straight days through December 19th, also the most ever (for such a period). The daily average reported January 11-16, was still high at 101. After that, daily figures in this particular category went down very well but have long since leveled off.

Over many months in 2020, a disturbing pattern emerged in the daily totals of new COVID-19 cases. After relatively low totals of fewer than 1,000 new cases per day in Illinois during June and part of July, figures rose steadily and shot up through the fall, bringing record highs as daily totals more than quadrupled. Included were many days of more than 11,000 to more than 15,400. Fortunately, these figures dropped substantially to a daily average of 5,207 during most of January and 2,393 throughout February. March averaged 1,868 new COVID cases per day in Illinois; daily numbers must continually decline for our county and state to be able to return to the level of normalcy everyone seeks. However, the decline in daily new cases leveled off. April finished with a much, much higher average of 3,015 daily new cases (an increase of 62%), including 4,004 on April 9th. In May, the daily average has declined significantly to 2,047 (as of 5/13). Monday’s total of 1,424 was the lowest in nearly two months.

Most important are the rates of positive coronavirus test results, measured in seven-day periods, which again are increasing. The history of the Illinois rate: It steadily dropped in May, June and most of July but relentlessly went up after that. It consistently increased following Christmas and was 8.3 %- 8.6% in early January. Steady declines began after that and February/March produced an all-time low of 2.1% in addition to 2.2% (numerous times). But it rose very significantly to 4.2% or more announced on seven days in mid-April. In fact, those were the highest rates in more than 11 weeks and a huge net increase of 100% in a month. The rate has decreased over the past three weeks and is currently a very much-improved 2.7% and holding, its lowest since March (last update 5/13).

It is concerning that this matches the pattern Illinois saw on its way to the record-breaking surge of last fall/winter. The City of Chicago rate shot up in October/November, reaching as high as [new method] 16%, fluctuated for weeks then again rose considerably. After holding at well above 10 percent in early-to-mid-January, it declined consistently and held for days at 2.8%, its lowest ever. But this rate relentlessly went up for a month-plus to 5.8%; it is now at 3.9%, still a significant net increase of 47% (last City update 5/11). Cook County overall was as high as [new method] 16.5% in November before steadily declining to a new low of 3.5% on March 3rd. But after that the County rate steadily increased all the way up to 6.1% and held for a week, its highest since February 9th and a 75% increase in about a month. It held around 5.1% with very little decreasing for two weeks before the current announced rate of 4.2% (last County update 5/12). [NOTE: Illinois rates shown are by the standard method used since March 2020; Chicago and Cook County rates are by new-method calculation.]

As fall progressed, public officials continually warned that the increase in positivity rates put Cook County and the state at a crossroads. The numbers then relentlessly grew worse. Weekly totals of new cases in Illinois were the highest ever and routinely saw huge increases including 51,466-61,331-85,629 in November/December. Weekly totals after Christmas of 41,912-48,929-40,079 showed we had not truly turned a corner. Finally, the totals went down for nine straight weeks including 10,996 for the week ended March 14, 2021 (lowest since August). But progress stopped and weekly totals again increased to figures including 23,138 and 22,649 new cases. Finally, the past three weeks have been lower at 18,594-18,695-15,239 cases.

More history on the pattern of Illinois’ weekly totals of new cases: They had also dropped for six straight weeks in May-June 2020, a record then better than any other highly-populated state. However, amid greater testing, a more open society and inadequate precautions by the public, these weekly totals later exceeded the previous week’s total six times in a row and in 22 of 30 weeks into January 2021, with most weeks setting new records. So, again, lower numbers are encouraging – but the substantial increases which followed all those previous stretches of weekly declines showed how easily things can always worsen if people do not get vaccinated and follow precautions.

Last year, the daily number of COVID-19 hospital patients went down by more than half after May; total patients in ICU and on ventilators also dropped substantially. But in October-November, all these numbers were much greater than at any time in four-plus months. Hospitalizations tripled in Chicago and more than quadrupled statewide to an all-time Illinois high. ICU patients more than quadrupled and ventilator use more than tripled.

February and early March of this year saw Illinois hospitalization, ICU COVID-19 patient and ventilator numbers steadily go down to their lowest levels ever. But then all these numbers again saw steady, disturbing very large increases. From mid-March into May, state hospitalizations have gone up 63%, and the increase was substantial in Chicago and suburban Cook County. State ICU totals have also climbed 105% in the same period and COVID patients on ventilators have risen by an even more troubling 151%. These daily totals, especially hospitalizations, are again decreasing most days – but that is a mere start. To return to the consistently solid overall progress of last summer, we must get vaccinated, not be careless and be sure to still follow the simple steps outlined below to more greatly reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The “opening” of various aspects of society does NOT mean people are not capable of spreading this virus (even if vaccinated) and any new, more transmissible variations.

Past surges in new cases led to the return of many more preventive measures by Governor Pritzker and officials of Chicago and other municipalities in Cook County. Now, with many of those measures lightened, please be sure you know current policies. To help citizens stay safe, it is imperative for all to follow them and the recommendations of the State of Illinois and all local requirements. It is also key to be aware of recommendations of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The continued and greater distribution of vaccines is good news, for sure. However, any vaccination acceptance has still not reached levels necessary for “herd immunity.” That will take more months and much more acceptance by the general public. Simply put, there is still a long way to go. So, the best approach is to get vaccinated AND avoid being exposed to this virus. As a common-sense reminder, CDC always recommends everyday actions to help prevent the spread of any respiratory disease such as COVID-19. Those actions include:

  • Wear a face mask (more on face masks below in this list)
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe
  • Face masks should be worn by everyone indoors at all times when others are present and by everyone outside at all times when social distancing is not possible. Simply put, this helps prevent the spread of COVID-19; masks protect yourself and others from this virus. The use of face masks has long been crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility). Masks are now crucial for everyone.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds – especially after using a bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol

For information about handwashing, see CDC’s Handwashing website. If you have questions or concerns, as always, ask a doctor or health professional.

We also want to provide guidance to volunteers, vendors, visitors, and people who frequent the Sheriff’s Office. Our goal is to ensure the safety of our employees, the public and detainees. Please read the following very carefully and follow the directions below as indicated.

Volunteers, vendors, visitors, and the public should contact their healthcare provider if they have:

  1. Returned from China, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, or any country with a CDC Travel Alert Level 3 in the last 14 days or
  2. Live with someone or have had close contact with a person under investigation (PUI) or
  3. Had close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 illness and
  4. Refrain from visiting the Sheriff’s Office if they are determined to be at risk of exposure to the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

As more information has become available about COVID-19, the CDC, Chicago, Cook County and State of Illinois have updated guidance for all travelers to self-isolate and limit activities after returning. Remember, this applies even if you show no symptoms of illness. For additional up-to-date information, please visit:

CDC Novel Coronavirushttps://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html

CDC Travel Guidancehttps://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html

Illinois Department of Public Healthhttp://www.dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/diseases-and-conditions/diseases-a-z-list/coronavirus

Cook County Department of Public Healthhttps://www.cookcountypublichealth.org/communicable-diseases/novel-coronavirus/

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