Light at the end of the tunnel? Drop in COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations leaves some experts ‘cautiously optimistic’

Light at the end of the tunnel? Drop in COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations leaves some experts ‘cautiously optimistic’

Nurse Alma Abad cares for a 59-year-old woman with COVID-19 at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side earlier this month. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Nearly 700 fewer COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in Illinois Monday night than the state’s all-time record of 7,380 set on Jan. 12.  Deaths dipped, too, Although hopeful, Northwestern Medical’s Dr. Sajal Tanna warned, “I wouldn’t let my guard down.”

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois could be rounding the corner on what’s been the worst surge of the COVID-19 pandemic — but some bumps might still lie in the road ahead.

That’s what public health experts were saying Tuesday as both the numbers of COVID-19 patients in hospital beds and those ultimately dying of the disease showed signs of dropping.

As of Monday night, 6,695 Illinoisans were hospitalized across the state for COVID-19. That’s nearly 700 fewer patients afflicted with the disease than the state’s all-time record of 7,380 set five days earlier on Jan. 12.

Deaths dipped, too, with 36 reported Tuesday. It was the lowest number of Illinoisans succumbing to the virus in eight days, following a week with four straight days in which more than 100 were reported.

The combined death toll for Sunday through Tuesday was 141. That’s less than the daily totals for last Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

New infections also dropped sharply, although still remaining troublingly high. Tuesday’s daily caseload was 20,483, less than half the state’s all-time one-day record of 44,089 set on Jan. 6.

Health care workers put on new personal protective equipment as patients rest nearby in the hallway at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side earlier this month. Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file
Health care workers put on new personal protective equipment as patients rest nearby in the hallway, as no rooms were open in the Emergency Department at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side earlier this month.

The dips were sparking optimism in Dr. Sajal Tanna, although the infectious diseases physician at Northwestern Medical warned it’s possible the lower cases could be due to delayed reporting related to the holiday weekend.

“I do think that there has been a really promising trend across the country in some of the earlier hit cities, including Chicago, that we’ve likely peaked,” Tanna said. “I’m cautiously optimistic that the worst is hopefully behind us.”

Chicago public health officials were also optimistic about the drop in the numbers of new cases and deaths they were reporting in the city, as well as a dip in the city’s positivity rate, the measure of how fast the virus is spreading.

“Things are looking quite good in terms of seeing a major slowing and the beginnings of a decline in terms of the exponential growth we’ve been seeing with Omicron,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said during a livestream Tuesday.

Despite her optimism, Tanna said she doesn’t think the state is out of the woods yet, as cases remain high.

“I wouldn’t let my guard down. I wouldn’t start resuming some of my maskless activities,” she said.

Melaney Arnold, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said it was too early to tell if the state had reached the surge’s peak.

Daisy Murillo, 20, of North Riverside, receives a Moderna vaccine booster shot at Cook County’s Forest Park Community Vaccination Site in Forest Park on Tuesday. Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Daisy Murillo, 20, of North Riverside, receives a Moderna vaccine booster shot at Cook County’s Forest Park Community Vaccination Site in Forest Park on Tuesday.

“While the 7-day average of cases shows a decreasing trend, we need to see a sustained decreasing trend. We urge people to continue getting vaccinated, boosted, and wearing a mask,” Arnold said in a statement.

Hospitalized COVID-19 patients in intensive care units remained high Tuesday, with 1,120 reported statewide Monday night.

That’s down from the 1,177 reported Jan. 12 or the pandemic high of 1,290 in April of 2020 – but it’s still twice as many ICU beds full as in early December.

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