Fewer new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in Brookfield, North Riverside and Riverside during the past two weeks compared to the prior two weeks, the first time that’s happened since last November, and possibly a sign that the latest surge, driven by the omicron variant of the virus, has peaked.

For the two weeks ending Jan. 24, Brookfield recorded 447 new cases, according to the Cook County Department of Public Health, compared to the period from Dec. 27-Jan. 10 when there were 561 new cases.

New cases also fell in Riverside during the two-week period ending Jan. 24, when the village saw 226, compared to the 246 cases recorded from Dec. 27-Jan. 10. In North Riverside the decline was smaller, 191 cases versus 196 in those respective time frames.

But the local story was in line with what the state has been experiencing generally, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker saying last week that he is “cautiously optimistic” that the recent surge in COVID-19 cases spurred by the omicron variant has peaked. However, he cautioned that another variant could appear at any time and continued to urge people to get vaccinated and wear face coverings when in public.

“Over the last two years, I’ve said over and over that you don’t know when a surge has reached its peak until you’re on the other side of it,” Pritzker said during a news conference in Chicago.

Beyond the total number of new cases, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said that the more important figure to track – given the number of COVID-positive home tests that are never reported – is the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19.

“I am absolutely moving away from the cases, because we know that that’s not even the full story, given all the home tests and all the positives that are happening at home that are not recorded in any of our Department of Public Health databases,” Ezike said. “But the hospitalizations, you can’t hide a hospitalization. And so as we look at those hospitalizations and understand where those numbers are going … that is definitely a clear signal of the direction we’re moving in.”

As of Jan. 23, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health website, hospitalizations from COVID-19 have been trending downward since mid-January. On Jan. 12, there were 1,177 COVID-19 patients in hospital ICU beds compared to 905 on Jan. 23. As of Jan. 23, COVID patients accounted for 31 percent of ICU beds occupied in Illinois hospitals, according to IDPH.

Deadly surge

 While local case numbers are falling, the sheer number of new cases fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant has been remarkable.

In the first 16 months of the pandemic, from March 2020 through June 2021, the village of Brookfield recorded 1,929 COVID cases. In the less than seven months since, another 1,839 cases have been added to the total.

In the 60546 ZIP code, which includes both Riverside and North Riverside, the two towns combined to record 1,604 cases during the first 16 months of the pandemic. In the roughly seven months between July 1, 2021 and Jan. 24, 2022, the ZIP code has recorded another 1,519 new COVID cases.

And while those vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 and who experienced breakthrough infections appear to have been more resistant to severe illness from omicron, the virus took its toll.

After experiencing just two deaths during the first seven months of 2021, Brookfield has had 10 residents die from COVID-19 since Aug. 9, with seven succumbing since Dec. 20, 2021.

The Brookfield residents who most recently died from the virus were an 86-year-old woman on Jan. 12 and a 42-year-old woman on Jan. 15, bringing the total number of fatalities in Brookfield to 23 since the pandemic began.

In Riverside, where three residents died between the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 and October 2021, there have been five fatalities between Oct. 11, 2021 and Jan. 24. The most recent fatalities were a 91-year-old Riverside woman on Jan. 22 and a 65-year-old woman on Jan. 24.

North Riverside has experienced four deaths from COVID-19 but none in more than a year, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner. The last fatality in North Riverside was recorded on Jan. 11, 2021, bringing the total since the beginning of the pandemic to four.

Despite the downward trend in case numbers, Pritzker and Ezike both urged Illinois residents to get vaccinated, to get booster shots when they’re eligible and to continue wearing face coverings in public places.

“The omicron surge has tested and proven once again that vaccines and masks are our best tools to keep most people safe from each variant of COVID-19,” Pritzker said. “Nevertheless, omicron’s high transmission rate caused more COVID hospitalizations than ever before. The vast majority unvaccinated. Our hospital systems and health care workers have battled to treat and to save not just COVID-19 patients, but every patient who walks through their doors.”

Vaccination rates continue to inch up, but the percentage of fully vaccinated residents continues to lag behind those who have chosen to be partially vaccinated. In Riverside, more than 90 percent of residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 73.9 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the Cook County Department of Public Health.

In Brookfield, 87.4 percent have received at least one dose of the vaccine, with 67.5 percent fully vaccinated. In North Riverside, 83.6 percent of residents have had at least one dose of the vaccine, with 65.6 percent fully vaccinated.

Peter Hancock of Capitol News Illinois contributed to this report.