As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the United States, Chicago’s top doctor expects the city could soon reach a “high” community level.
“Unfortunately, that’s the direction we’re headed,” said Dr. Chicago Department of Health Commissioner Allison Arwady in a Facebook Live Tuesday, calling it a “point of concern.”
While no counties in Illinois are at the “high community level” of COVID, there are 14 that are currently at a “moderate community level” of the virus. According to CDC data, this includes Cook County and seven other counties in the Chicago area.
Evanston, a northern suburb just outside Chicago, has said it is currently at a “high” community level.
Arwady said Chicago could reach similar levels “in the next few weeks.”
“While serious outcomes from COVID-19, including hospitalizations and deaths, in the city of Chicago continue to remain at or near all-time lows of the pandemic, Cook County (including Chicago) could soon enter the high level due to case numbers and regional impacts to the hospital,” CDPH said in a press release on Tuesday.
Chicago’s positivity rate has surged above 6% in recent weeks, with data showing a current average of 1,172 new daily cases over the past seven days. That number is higher than the 922 reported the previous week.
However, hospitalizations are averaging 18 per day, just 2% more than the week before.
Still, Arwady said the slow growth in hospital admissions leaves room for optimism.
“While our hospital numbers remain as good as they are, twice as many Chicagoans would need to be hospitalized to have mandates to think about,” she said.
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For the first time in more than three months, Illinois is averaging more than 6,000 new probable and confirmed COVID-19 cases per day, with hospitalizations also beginning to rise across the state.
Over the past seven days, the state’s daily average of new COVID cases has risen 17.7%, according to IDPH officials. In the last month, cases have increased by 174%.
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According to this data, the majority of cases in the United States are still Omicron’s BA.2 subvariant, but that number has dropped to 50.9% this week.
The BA.2.12.1 variant, which has been responsible for a large spike in cases, particularly in the Northeast, now accounts for up to 47.5% of COVID cases in the US and 44.7% in the Midwest this week.
Arwady noted that things might get worse before they get better.
“I think we need to get to a point where this recent surge, which is more contagious, is the dominant one,” she said. “So that’s probably going to be a few more weeks, if I had to guess.” And then the question is, can we pause here in terms of new variants and new sub-variants, but the good news is that vaccines work beautifully to keep people out of the hospital.”
For now, while encouraging masking indoors and adding precautions, she said the return of mask mandates is unlikely to happen until hospital admissions increase.
"While our hospital numbers remain as good as they are, we'd have to see twice as many Chicagoans getting hospitalized to need to be thinking about mandates," she said.