CHICAGO — It appears a second surge of coronavirus is beginning in Chicago, the city’s top doctor said Thursday.
Officials have long said they were worried about the potential for a second spike of COVID-19 in the fall. It appears Chicago could be in the early stages of such a spike, as the city is seeing sharp increases in new cases and its positivity rate.
The numbers are “of grave concern,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health. Arwady said Chicagoans need to get serious again about preventing COVID-19 spread and should wear masks, social distance and return to only seeing people in their immediate household or coronavirus “bubble.”
“I am worried that this could be the beginning of this second surge that everybody has been talking about,” Arwady said during a Thursday livestream. “This could be what folks have been concerned about. And now is the time to double down on the things that have helped keep this in control, broadly, to date.”
The surge isn’t limited to Chicago: Illinois as a whole has seen bumps in its positivity rate and daily new cases.
The state reported a record 4,015 new cases Thursday, its highest one-day case total yet. That brought the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois to 331,620.
The state also reported 53 deaths during the past day, including 11 people in Cook County. At least 9,127 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois.
Similarly, Chicago’s numbers are rising sharply. An average of 442 cases are being reported in the city per day — a 32 percent increase from just one week ago.
While part of the uptick in new cases is due to increased testing, officials have said that doesn’t explain everything and the numbers do show increased spread of coronavirus.
For example, Chicago’s positivity rate has risen to 4.5 percent, a .3 percentage point increase since last week — but the positivity rate should have fallen as more testing was done, not gone up, Arwady said.
And daily new cases in the city are up 32 percent from one week ago, but testing has only increased 16 percent, Arwady said.
“The problem here is that yes, we are doing more testing and that is good and that is progress … but, nevertheless, we are seeing real increases here,” Arwady said during a Thursday livestream.
Similarly, Illinois’ seven-day positivity rate has risen to 4.9 percent, an increase of 1.2 percentage points from one week ago.
“These numbers are indicating a concerning direction,” Gov. JB Pritzker said during a Wednesday news conference.
And though the state reported about 7.5 percent fewer tests Thursday — 67,086 compared to 72,491 one week ago — new cases were up 31.2 percent compared to one week ago.
In Chicago, the spike has known no boundaries: New cases are being reported in every ZIP code, and there have been significant increases in all racial/ethnic and age groups, Arwady said.
Arwady said it appears to be people’s actions that are driving the surge. People feel comfortable around small groups of family and friends, for example, so they let down their guard — but a significant amount of spread is happening in those small gatherings.
But in places where people feel less safe, they’re being more cautious and there hasn’t been significant spread, Arwady said: For example, there’s been no significant spread attributed to the CTA because people feel more nervous on it, so they’re better about social distancing and masking.
It appears people who were sick are also letting down their guard, she said. An estimated 15-20 percent of Chicagoans have had coronavirus by now, Arwady said, but even those who have been sick need to keep following safety guidelines since they could become re-infected.
“I think people are getting COVID fatigue,” Arwady said. “I think this is real, that people are feeling like they’re tired of wearing their masks, they’re tired of social distancing and they’re often letting their guard down.”
The doctor urged people — even those who have already had coronavirus — to keep taking safety precautions, like keeping 6 feet from others and wearing a mask. People should not gather or, if they do, they should keep taking safety steps like masking.
“It’s getting to be a more dangerous time for COVID, which means it’s not the time to be relaxing those behaviors,” Arwady said. “And particularly if you have somebody in your household or somebody in your bubble who has an underlying condition or is older, is over 60, you need to be especially careful. … This is not the year to have your traditional, large Thanksgiving gathering … nor to travel.
“… If there are interactions that you’re having with folks that are not in your household, in your close bubble already, now is a good time to be dialing back on some of those activities.”
Despite the growing spread of coronavirus, it doesn’t appears deaths or COVID-19-related hospitalizations are up yet in the city, Arwady said. An average of two Chicagoans are dying per day from coronavirus, which is about what the city has seen for months.
But hospital admissions have risen in most other parts of Illinois, Pritzker said Wednesday.
And Arwady said she’s worried a surge in cases here will lead to deaths once again going up. At the peak of the virus in Chicago, in April and May, nearly 50 people were dying per day from COVID-19.
“I’m very concerned about what this has the potential to lead to related to some of the more severe outcomes,” Arwady said. “I am hopeful that we’ll be able to keep our levels of hospitalizations and deaths down.”
Arwady said she has “real concern” about Illinois as a whole.
“Chicago is doing a little better than downstate Illinois,” Arwady said. “But, broadly, COVID is not going well, is the bottom line. … The news is not good.”
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