Chicago Facing ‘Very Significant’ COVID-19 Surge, As Omicron Variant Looms, Top Doc Says

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

Even as the threat posed by the omicron variant of COVID-19 has yet to materialize in Chicago, the city is enduring a “very significant” surge of COVID-19 fueled by holiday gatherings and indoor events, Chicago’s top doctor said Tuesday.

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Though the omicron variant of COVID-19 has yet to be discovered in Chicago, Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said the city is now experiencing a second wave of cases of the delta variant of COVID-19. It is likely the omicron variant is present in Chicago and will be detected in the coming days, Arwady said.

There is now a “very high risk” of COVID-19 transmission in Chicago, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health because the city averaged 828 confirmed cases of COVID-19 during the past week.

As the number of COVID-19 cases increase across the city, the number of confirmed cases of the virus is also increasing at Chicago Public Schools, with the number of students testing positive between Nov. 28 and Dec. 4 doubling as compared with the week before. 

That has required more than 6,800 students exposed to people with the virus to quarantine, an increase of nearly 40% from Saturday to Monday, according to data from the Chicago Public Schools.

But Chicago’s schools remain safe for students and faculty, Arwady said.

Data from Chicago health officials show that confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been rising in Chicago since Oct. 25, once the weather turned colder, sending people indoors. Cases are also likely to rise after families and friends gathered for Thanksgiving, Arwady said.

The highest rates of confirmed cases of COVID-19 are in the Midwest, according to CDPH data.

Arwady urged all Chicagoans older than 5 to get vaccinated, and for those older than 18 to get a booster dose of the vaccine as soon as they are eligible. Everyone should also wear a mask while indoors in a public space, she added.

Chicago officials added North Carolina, Tennessee and the District of Columbia to the city’s COVID-19 travel advisory on Tuesday.

That advisory now covers 40 states, Arwady said.

Unvaccinated visitors to Chicago from those states are urged to quarantine for 10 days or record a negative test for the coronavirus within 72 hours of their arrival, officials said.

In addition, unvaccinated travelers should get tested three to five days before they leave on their trip as well as three to five days after they return, according to new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Even if they test negative, they should self-quarantine for seven days. Those who don’t take a test should quarantine for 10 days after travel, according to the new guidance.

Unvaccinated travelers should avoid being around people who are at increased risk for severe illness for 14 days, even with a negative test, according to the new guidance.

The city’s travel order, first implemented in July 2020, did not include any states as of June 1 as vaccination efforts tamped down cases and spurred reopenings across the United States. On June 29, officials announced the order would become an advisory as COVID-19 cases remained low across the nation. The delta variant stopped that progress.

States and territories that average more than 15 cases of COVID-19 per day per 100,000 residents are covered by the travel advisory, Chicago officials said.

Chicago is averaging 30.6 new cases per day per 100,000 residents. Illinois is averaging 39.2 cases per day, according to data from the Chicago Department of Public Health. The national case rate is 31.3, officials said.

The city’s test positivity rate is 4.1%, up from 3.2% a week ago.

No one was cited for violating the travel order, which could have triggered fines of $100 to $500 per day for a maximum fine of $7,000, according to the mayor’s office. 

City officials said the advisory is designed to be part of a COVID-19 education campaign.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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