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IDPH urges vigilance as COVID cases rise in emergency rooms

A person wearing white gloves handles two BinaxNOW branded COVID-19 tests
David Dermer/AP
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FR171035 AP
FILE - A healthcare worker grabs two at-home COVID-19 test kits to be handed out during a distribution event.

The CDC reports a nearly 30 percent uptick in COVID-related Illinois ER visits during the first week in June.

Illinois emergency rooms saw a nearly 30% increase in patients testing positive for COVID-19 during the week ending June 8.

Illinois is one of nearly a dozen states that reported at least a moderate uptick that week. The trend has generally been on the rise since the beginning of May, when COVID patients accounted for roughly 0.3% of all people who visited an emergency room nationwide. As of June 8 that rose to 0.6%.

But despite the nearly 30% increase, data from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) shows just 0.5% of people who visited an ER did so because of COVID. Those numbers are still well below the levels seen during spikes last fall and winter.

“It's certainly a time for vigilance, but not necessarily a time for alarm,” said Dr. Arti Barnes, IDPH’s chief medical officer.

“Personally, I wear a mask when I'm in a crowded subway or on the train or in a bus… even though it's the summer and there's low virus circulation, just to minimize my chance of getting whatever is out there,” she said.The latest IDPH data also shows a sharp uptick in COVID tests coming back positive – from 2.7% of tests the week of June 1 to 4.4% the week ending June 8. Many people are contracting one of several “FLiRT” variants like KB.2 or KB1.1, which are a couple of variants removed from XBB. That’s the strain, IDPH said, that the currently available vaccine protects best against.

Barnes suggests people get treatment if they test positive – people at a higher risk for developing serious illness can be prescribed antiviral drugs like Paxlovid, which have been shown to help reduce symptoms and shorten the illness’s duration.

“A lot of providers and people in the community are not aware that it takes very little to be considered at risk for COVID,” said Barnes. “Even a very sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity, mental conditions, like having severe depression, things like that that people don't consider traditional risk factors are considered also risk factors for COVID.”

Alex Degman is a Statehouse reporter with WBEZ.