Two years after Illinois’ first COVID-19 case, drop in Omicron infections, ICU numbers suggest state ‘headed in the right direction’

Two years after Illinois’ first COVID-19 case, drop in Omicron infections, ICU numbers suggest state ‘headed in the right direction’

Students and parents arrive at Jordan Community Public School in Rogers Park earlier this month. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Although patients hospitalized with COVID-19 remained high at 5,238 occupied beds — a daily total reached last year on only a handful of days — it still meant 2,100 fewer patients hospitalized with the virus than when Illinois hit its record high on Jan. 12.

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois is reporting the fewest number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units across the state since Christmas.

Overall, the number of Illinoisans hospitalized with the virus dipped for the eleventh straight day, and daily new infections were at their lowest in five weeks.

The generally favorable reports on Monday came exactly two years after Illinois logged its first coronavirus case and less than a week after officials suggested the Omicron surge – the worst of the five surges since 2020 — had finally peaked.

The 905 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units in Illinois hospitals Sunday night marked the fourth straight day of fewer than 1,000 ICU patients and the lowest total since Dec. 25, when 903 patients were receiving critical care.

At 9,462 infections, Monday’s caseload paled in comparison to the whopping 41,064 cases the state reported Saturday. But what looked to be another dangerously high single-day total over the weekend was actually the result of a data backlog from one laboratory, said Melaney Arnold, a spokesperson from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Nurse Alma Abad checks on a patient with COVID-19 in the Intensive Care Unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side earlier this month. Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file
Nurse Alma Abad checks on a patient with COVID-19 in the Intensive Care Unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side earlier this month.

“There was a backlog in data from one specific lab,” Arnold said in a statement. “Those data were updated on January 21 and 22, but date back to December 23, 2021. IDPH is working with this lab to prevent future backlogs and apparent artificial spikes in cases.”

The number of patients who succumbed to the virus also dipped Monday, with 81 deaths reported, following a spate of days last week with death tolls exceeding 100.

Although patients hospitalized with COVID-19 remained high at 5,238 occupied beds – a daily total reached last year on only a handful of days – it still meant 2,100 fewer patients hospitalized with the virus than when Illinois hit its record high on Jan. 12.

“I do think everything — positivity rate, hospitalizations — are all headed in the right direction,” said Dr. Sajal Tanna, an infectious diseases physician at Northwestern Medicine. “I don’t think people should let their guard down, but I do think we’re going to see those numbers come back down to a more reasonable number over the next week or two.”

Monday also marked two years since the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Illinois. The woman, a Chicago resident in her 60s, had returned from Wuhan, China, just 11 days before testing positive for the virus.

Since then, Illinois has reported 2,837,861 cases of the virus and 30,155 deaths.

That’s more than 44 Illinois residents dying every day of COVID-19 on average since South Sider Patricia Frieson became the first Illinoisan to succumb to the virus on March 16, 2020.

Patricia Frieson, who died March 16, 2020 at age 61, was the first known coronavirus-related death in Illinois. Provided
Patricia Frieson, who died March 16, 2020 at age 61, was the first known coronavirus-related death in Illinois.

“We have learned a great deal in the two years since the first case was reported in Illinois and we continue to learn as this virus and its variants are constantly changing,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Public Health Department, said in a statement. “We now have safe and effective vaccines; we have oral antiviral and monoclonal antibody treatments; and we know that proper masking, testing, and isolation and quarantine can help slow the spread of the virus.”

Since the first COVID-19 vaccinations were administered in Illinois in December 2020, more than 8.3 million Illinoisans older than 18 have received at least one dose and more than 7.4 million are fully vaccinated, according to the department.

For help finding a shot, or to set up a free in-home vaccination appointment, visit chicago.gov/covidvax or call (312) 746-4835.

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