Chicago may soon reach a high alert level for COVID, but that doesn’t necessarily mean mask mandates will return right away, the city’s top doctor said Tuesday.
While masks are “strongly recommended” across the city with cases rising, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said she’s been monitoring a different metric to determine if the mandates will return. .
“While our hospital numbers remain as good as they are, we should see twice as many Chicagoans hospitalized for needing to think about warrants,” she said.
The CDPH said that even if the region reaches a higher alert level, “the City of Chicago would not immediately reinstate an indoor mask mandate, as serious outcomes in Chicago remain relatively rare and the burden of COVID- 19 in our local hospitals remains low.”
Chicago’s positivity rate has soared above 6% in recent weeks, with data showing a current average of 1,172 daily new cases over the past seven days. This number is up from the 922 reported the previous week.
Hospitalizations, however, are averaging 18 a day, up just 2% from the previous week.
On Monday, Chicago hospitals combined reported fewer than 200 hospitalized patients with COVID-19, of whom only 18 were in intensive care.
Although no county in Illinois is at the “high community level” of COVID, there are 14 that are currently at a “medium community level” of the virus. That includes Cook County, along with seven other Chicago-area counties, according to CDC data.
Evanston, a northern suburb just outside of Chicago, said it is currently at a “high” community level.
Arwady said Chicago could reach a similar level “in the coming weeks.”
“As severe COVID-19 outcomes, including hospitalizations and deaths, continue to remain at or near unprecedented pandemic lows in the City of Chicago, Cook County (including Chicago) may soon rise to the level high depending on the number of cases and the region impacting the hospital,” the CDPH said in a statement Tuesday.
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For the first time in more than three months, Illinois is averaging more than 6,000 new probable and confirmed cases of COVID-19 per day, with hospitalizations also beginning to climb statewide.
Over the past seven days, the state’s daily average of new COVID cases has increased by 17.7%, according to IDPH officials. Over the past month, cases have increased by 174%.
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According to this data, the majority of cases in the United States are still made up of the BA.2 subvariant of omicron, but this number has fallen to 50.9% this week.
The BA.2.12.1 variant, which has been responsible for a sharp increase in cases, particularly in the Northeast, now accounts for up to 47.5% of COVID cases this week in the United States, and it is 44.7% in the Midwest.
Arwady noted that things might get worse before they get better.
“I think we have to get to a point where this last increase, which is more contagious, is the most significant,” she said. “So it’s probably going to take another few weeks if I had to guess. And then the question is, can we pause here in terms of new variants and new subvariants, but the good news is that vaccines work wonderfully in terms of keeping people out of the hospital.”
For now, the city continues to recommend indoor masking, despite the lack of a mandate.
“Although masks are not currently required inside the City of Chicago, the CDPH strongly recommends that individuals wear a mask in indoor public places and continue with other COVID-19 mitigation measures. : make sure everyone is up to date with vaccines and boosters; get tested if you experience COVID-like symptoms; continue to follow quarantine and isolation guidelines; and stay home if you are sick,” the CDPH said in its statement. “As the weather continues to warm, CDPH is also advising Chicagoans to congregate outdoors, when possible, to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.”