In Chicago and across the country, many cities are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, which the city’s top doctor says could lead to altered levels of transmissibility in some areas.
“New York City, for example, is seeing an increase,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Thursday. “They’re also in low, but they expect them to reach that medium risk level, maybe in a couple of weeks or so.”
About a month ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began classifying counties as high, medium, or low risk for coronavirus transmissibility, Arwady recalled. Chicago, like other cities, has generally aligned mitigation recommendations with the level of risk.
Although Chicago has seen an increase in cases, Arwady said the city remains at low risk, meaning the virus has “limited impact” on the health care system and there are low levels of serious illness.
Since moving to low risk, Chicago has lifted the indoor mask mandate, as well as the requirement to provide proof of vaccinations in establishments like bars, restaurants and gyms.
Although Arwady said she doesn’t expect a major COVID surge in Chicago, she detailed what residents can expect if the city reaches medium-level transmissibility again.
“If we were to get to medium risk, we’re starting to get more worried. We’re seeing more impact on the healthcare system, more people with serious illnesses. If and when we get back to medium risk, that’s when , for example, the CDPH would recommend masks in indoor public places,” Arwady said. “And we would see some parameters define that as a requirement. I would expect we would see Chicago Public Schools, for example, make the decision to return to a mask requirement. There are high risk settings where we would have it – we would also increase the availability of some resources again.”
“And if we get too high, that’s when we would need to redo some high attenuation mask requirements at the community level in public places, maybe vaccine requirements for places high-risk audiences, etc.”, continued Arwady. “But right now again we’re low. I’m not alarmed.”
Earlier this week, CDPH officials said they were tracking a “gradual increase” in COVID cases in the city, but the overall risk of infection remains low for residents.
On Friday, Chicago was seeing an increase in both its test positivity, which rose to 1.7% this week, and its COVID cases, with the city averaging 312 new cases a day.
That’s up from the 284 daily cases the city was reporting on Tuesday, according to CDPH data.
Deaths, however, have dropped 75% over the past week to less than one a day. Hospitalizations have also fallen over the past week to an average of 5.86 per day, down 51% over the past seven days.
City officials say the BA.2 omicron subvariant is likely driving the increases, following a national trend that has seen the strain become dominant in the United States.
CDPH commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady says the city expects increases to continue, but warned authorities have not seen a “surge” in cases.
“We expect this gradual increase to continue in the near future, but we don’t see signs of a major surge and there is nothing unexpected about the outbreak right now in Chicago,” she said.
Arwady says the city will continue to step up efforts to promote vaccinations and boosters, especially in Black and Latinx communities.