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Coronavirus Won’t Be Over For ‘Years’ In Chicago, City’s Top Doctor Says

"I don't know we'll ever get to a point where COVID will be eradicated, to be perfectly honest," said Dr. Allison Arwady.

Two pedestrians wear masks in the Streeterville neighborhood on Monday, April 27, 2020. Starting May 1, all Illinois residents are required to wear face coverings in public.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The coronavirus pandemic likely won’t be over for years in Chicago — and the virus may never be gone entirely, the city’s top doctor said Tuesday.

The city, state and nation are still in the grips of the pandemic, though cases are only slowly rising in Chicago while they surge elsewhere across the United States.

In Chicago, the Public Health Department is making plans on how to handle the pandemic over the next two to three years, Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the department, said during a Tuesday morning call with reporters.

“I don’t know we’ll ever get to a point where COVID will be eradicated, to be perfectly honest,” Arwady said.

While the city battles the virus, life will continue to look different. Officials, including Gov. JB Pritzker, have said life won’t return to normal — or whatever the new “normal” will be — until there’s a vaccine, effective treatment or no new cases for a prolonged period.

A vaccine will probably start to be available in early 2021, but it will “likely take a full year to a do a full rollout of that,” Arwady said, and the vaccine will “probably not be 100 percent effective.”

“Throughout the whole period where we are starting to have a vaccine available … we are going to continue to need to do mitigation efforts to control the spread of COVID,” Arwady said.

Pritzker said Monday he expects people will need to wear masks at least through the end of the year. During Tuesday’s call, Arwady agreed and said the mask requirement will likely go longer.

“I do think that masks are one of the easiest things people can do to help really protect against the spread of COVID in the community,” Arwady said. “I do think they’re going to be part of our future for quite a while to come.

“And the more people can start to recognize that COVID is just going to be part of our lives for some time period and do all the things that we know work, that lets us have our new normal in place to the extent possible … .”

Arwady and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have repeatedly warned the virus is going to be part of life in Chicago for quite some time — but they’ve said Chicagoans can fight back by wearing masks, practicing social distancing and washing their hands so the virus doesn’t spread as much.

Chicago’s outbreak is currently “broadly in control,” Arwady said Tuesday, but the city has seen rises in the average number of new cases per day and in the percent of people testing positive for COVID-19.

The rises are largely driven by young people, with the most new cases reported in Chicagoans age 18-29 and 30-39. Arwady said outbreaks have been seen more often in settings where people are gathering and letting their guard down, like when visiting family and friends and not wearing masks.

The rise in cases causes concern, Arwady said, but city officials “don’t get too excited about one day of change.”

Officials will look to roll back restrictions if the numbers continue to rise, though, Arwady said. As of Tuesday, Chicago is seeing an average of 240 new cases per day and its positivity rate is at 5.4 percent.

Should Chicago hit a positivity rate of 8 percent and/or get up to an average of 400 new cases per day, it will consider rolling back and re-implementing restrictions, Arwady said.

Hitting 400 cases per day would be a “line in the sand … where we will have much more concern” and officials would need to make “serious decisions about pulling back on activities,” Arwady said.

“… We are worried about the increases we are seeing and uncontrolled outbreaks that increasingly we’re seeing close to Chicago, particularly in settings where people still are not doing the basic things like wearing masks and taking COVID seriously,” Arwady said. “We’re trying to play the long game in Chicago. We want to be able to remain the most open big city, which is what we are right now.”

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