Four local residents – three from Brookfield and one from Riverside – died after contracting COVID-19 in the days after Christmas, the Cook County Medical Examiner is reporting.
A 52-year-old Riverside man died from COVID-19 on Dec. 26, according to the medical examiner, while a 72-year-old Brookfield man died on Dec. 31. Two Brookfield residents, a 58-year-old man and a 96-year-old woman died from COVID-19 on Jan. 1.
That brings the number of Brookfield residents who have died from COVID-19 to 20 and the number of Riverside residents to five since the pandemic began in March 2020.
Their deaths come amid a skyrocketing number of new local cases of COVID-19 and warnings from state officials that hospitalizations from COVID-19 are hitting pandemic peaks.
For the week-long period ending Jan. 3, the Cook County Department of Public Health reported 251 new COVID-19 cases in Brookfield, by far the highest weekly total since the pandemic began. The weekly case record for Brookfield was set just the week before, at 188 cases.
The COVID-19 rolling seven-day positivity rate in Brookfield had jumped to 17.8 percent as of Jan. 3, according to the Northwestern School of Medicine’s online dashboard. Less than two months ago, positivity rates were about 2 percent.
New weekly case numbers were at record levels in both Riverside and North Riverside as well, as of Jan. 3. In Riverside, the county recorded 126 new cases – more than double the number of cases reported the previous week, while in North Riverside there were 93 new cases.
Omicron variant gaining dominance
While the highly contagious and deadly delta variant of COVID-19 still accounts for the majority of new cases of the disease in Illinois, the omicron variant – even more contagious, but believed to result in less-severe cases – is quickly beginning to make inroads.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the omicron variant accounted for less than 2 percent of new COVID-19 cases on Dec. 18. As of Jan. 1, the omicron variant accounted for 31.2 percent of new cases.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker warned on Jan. 3 that hospitalizations are about as high as they were last winter before vaccines were widely available. About 85 percent of those hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state are unvaccinated.
“It is frustrating and tragic that two years into the pandemic, with multiple widely available and free, life-saving vaccines, that we are once again in this horrible position,” Pritzker said during a news conference in Chicago.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 6,294 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Jan. 2, the most since the pandemic began.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, IDPH director, said an average of 550 people are being admitted to hospitals each day.
With hospital beds for other emergencies “frighteningly limited,” Pritzker joined the Illinois Health and Hospital Association in urging health care providers to postpone non-emergency surgeries and procedures as needed to accommodate the influx of COVID-19 cases.
“This surge is testing our health resources yet again,” A.J. Wilhelmi, CEO and president of the IHHA said.
Though hospitals have become accustomed to managing bed capacity and the needs of COVID-19 patients over the course of the pandemic, Wilhelmi said the best way for people to provide relief for health care workers and facilities is to get vaccinated and boosted.
More than 19 million vaccines have been administered with about 60 percent of Illinois residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Pritzker fears the rise in COVID cases will continue to increase as the virus incubates in those who were exposed during the holidays. He urged individuals to get tested as soon as possible.
Pritzker also announced that starting this week, free community-based testing sites will expand operations to six days a week. There is a full list of site locations and times on IDPH’s website at dph.illinois.gov/covid19/testing.html.
Grace Kinnicutt of Capitol News Illinois contributed to this report.