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Gatherings With ‘Trusted’ Friends, Family Are Driving Rise In Chicago Coronavirus Cases, Top Doc Says

"Recognize when you are out and not being careful, even among your trusted friends and family, you do run the risk of bringing COVID back into your home and into your friends group," said Dr. Allison Arwady.

COVID-19 testing in Chicago.
Chicago Mayor's Office
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CHICAGO — A Chicago woman in her 40s went to a birthday party at her mother’s house. There were just a few people there, including her son, daughter, sister and niece. When it was over, every person who attended tested positive for coronavirus, officials said.

Another woman in her 40s went to a party at a friend’s home. There were about 20 people there. She later told a coronavirus contact tracer “they were lax on social distancing because they all trusted each other.” She’s now positive.

After slowing the initial spike in coronavirus cases months ago, Chicago is again seeing a troubling rise in cases that could force city officials to tighten restrictions on dining and gatherings that were loosened as cases dropped.

A main culprit, Chicago’s top doctor said Tuesday, is people letting down their guard at gatherings with friends and family and bringing coronavirus back into their homes.

“Recognize when you are out and not being careful, even among your trusted friends and family, you do run the risk of bringing COVID back into your home and into your friends group,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the city’s Department of Public Health.

During the peak of Chicago’s first wave of cases, it saw 1,500 new confirmed cases in one day. In May, the average was 1,000 in a day, Arwady said.

That number shrank to under 200 a day a month ago, but it is now at 270 new cases a day. And it is still on the rise, she said.

“We’ve been seeing a slow increase in cases,” Arwady said. “It’s not been shooting up like we’ve been seeing in some other states, but the unfortunate news is week after week after week, we are adding new cases.”

At the peak, congregate settings like the Cook County Jail and nursing homes fueled the spike, but coronavirus in those settings have gotten under control with tighter restrictions and practices, Arwady said.

The current battle is now outside those settings in more every day life. And those are the places often out of the reach of city enforcement, Arwady said.

“In private spaces, like households and social gatherings, the city of Chicago broadly can’t regulate that activity,” she said. “And those are decisions that people are making on a regular basis.

“I know that you feel safe at home. I feel safe at home. I know that you feel safe when you are among friends that you know. It’s easy to let your guard down, to not wear masks, to not social distance. … As people are letting down their guard, they are out potentially contracting COVID and then bringing it back into households.”

Arwady encouraged people to limit their close contacts — the people likely to contract COVID from you if you do become infected. Exposure within a household is the number one risk factor, Arwady said, noting you are 10 times more likely to contract COVID in your home than in other settings, based on people bringing it home.

“We really need to turn these numbers around in Chicago,” she said.
“We can do this, we flattened the curve before. We can do it again.”

Arwady did point to some hopeful numbers amid the rising number of new confirmed cases.

Chicago is seeing only about 10 new COVID-19 hospitalizations each day, down from an average of about 175.

And the city was suffering about 50 deaths a day at the peak of the initial wave. There are now an average of three deaths a day in the city.

But both hospitalizations and deaths lag behind new case counts, and other parts of the country have seen those numbers spike as well in the wake of rising new cases, she said.

“If we see more hospitalizations, we might have to take a step backwards,” she said.

Arwady also announced Chicago is adding Puerto Rico to the list of places where incoming people should self-quarantine for 14 days when arriving in Chicago.

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