CHICAGO — The Illinois Department of Public Health announced in a press release Friday that despite a new variant , COVID-19 community level of risk has decreased statewide.

IDPH reported that the CDC has designated 61 counties in Illinois to either medium or high levels of COVID-19, down from 73 counties last week. This week, only five counties are at a high community level and 56 are at a medium level.

According to their press release, IDPH is reporting 16,602 new confirmed and probably cases of COVID-19 between Jan. 1 and Jan. 8. There have been 113 COVID-19 deaths in the same time frame.

Central Illinois currently remains mostly in the “medium” community risk category. The five counties that are at high risk are Hardin, Hancock, Logan, Washington, and Marion Counties.

From the Centers for Disease Control’s COVID-19 dashboard

“I am encouraged to see COVID-19 community levels once again declining and hospital capacity remaining stable this week,” said IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra. “Thank you to all Illinois residents who have continued to protect themselves and their loved ones from infection. IDPH is closely monitoring the XBB ‘Kraken’ variant which is spreading in the northeastern United States and leading to increased cases and hospitalizations. Although we are currently seeing low rates in Illinois at about 8% of clinical samples, it is important for all of us to prepare for and be aware of this emerging variant. Please continue to use all of the tools available to protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19, the flu, and other respiratory diseases, especially those most at risk for severe disease.”

Dr. Vohra and IDPH also reminded residents that bivalent COVID-19 boosters have been authorized for use in all individuals aged six months and older.

The two new bivalent booster vaccines include an mRNA component of the original strain to provide an immune response that is broadly protective against COVID-19 and an added mRNA component in common between the omicron variant BA.4 and BA.5 lineages to provide better protection against COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant.

Other measures in addition to vaccination can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as well.

In counties at the medium community level, such as Peoria, Tazewell, Fulton, and Mason Counties, elderly or immunocompromised people at risk of severe outcomes are advised to wear a mask in indoor public places. They should also get up to date on COVID-19 vaccines or get their bivalent booster, if eligible.

The CDC recommends the following measures for people in areas that are rated at high community level for COVID-19 transmission, which includes Logan County:

  • Wear a well-fitting mask indoors in public, regardless of vaccination status (including in K-12 schools and other indoor community settings)
  • If you are immunocompromised or high risk for severe disease: Wear a mask or respirator that provides you with greater protection, consider avoiding non-essential indoor activities in public where you could be exposed, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you need to take other precautions, have a plan for rapid testing if needed (e.g., having home tests or access to testing), and talk to your healthcare provider about whether you are a candidate for treatments like oral antivirals, and monoclonal antibodies
  • If you have household or social contact with someone at high risk for severe disease: Consider self-testing to detect infection before contact and consider wearing a mask when indoors with them
  • Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters
  • Maintain improved ventilation throughout indoor spaces when possible
  • Follow CDC recommendations for isolation and quarantine, including getting tested if you are exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19

Dr. Vohra also noted that those who test positive for COVID-19 should immediately contact their healthcare provider to discuss whether they need treatment with one of the effective antiviral medications, Paxlovid, Lagverio and Remdesivir.

Through Project ACT, IDPH will be distributing one million at-home antigen tests to 200,000 Illinois families in zip codes outside the City of Chicago that are rated high on a Social Vulnerability Index (SVI). Households can find out if they are in an eligible zip code and request one package of five tests on a first-come-first-serve basis at the Project ACT website. The tests will be delivered to the home address.

The federal government is also distributing free COVID-19 tests via their website.

Free or low cost COVID-19 testing locations are also available throughout the state, including in Chicago, and can be found on the IDPH website’s testing locator page.