File Photo | Photo: Arturo Rey (via Unsplash)

Illinois health officials say the state is experiencing a “significant rise” of counties at elevated risk for COVID-19 and are recommending residents wear masks.

COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses are continuing to rise across Illinois following the Thanksgiving holiday, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

The IDPH said the anticipated “post-holiday surge” is a reminder for the public to take action to protect themselves during the remainder of the holiday season.

“This is especially important when it comes to members of the family who are vulnerable to severe outcomes,” IDPH said in a statement.

74 counties in Illinois, including Lake and McHenry counties, are now rated at an elevated level for COVID-19 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The majority of Illinois counties are rated as medium or high for community transmission of COVID.

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The CDC recommends people in high community-level transmission areas wear masks and those in medium transmission areas wear masks if they are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe disease.

Illinois reported 21,404 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in the state since December 2 along with 56 deaths.

“Illinois is experiencing a significant rise in communities at elevated risk levels for COVID-19, including 29 counties at a high risk,” said IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra.

1,582 people in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19, according to the latest data from earlier this week.

188 of them were in the ICU and 69 patients were on ventilators.

“These elevated COVID-19 community levels, along with rising flu levels, are leading to a surge of respiratory infections and increased hospitalizations. I recommend all Illinoisians – and especially those most vulnerable including young children and individuals over 65 – take all preventative steps to protect themselves, their families and friends,” Vohra said.

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Vohra said residents are recommended to wear a high-quality mask or respirator to protect from COVID-19, the flu and other respiratory viruses.

Vohra stressed that those who test positive for COVID-19 should contact their healthcare provider to discuss treatment involving antiviral medications such as Paxlovid, Lagverio and Remdesivir.

The IDPH said they are offering one million free COVID-19 rapid antigen tests to residents in economically disadvantaged zip codes

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.

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