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Up To 1 In Every 54 Chicagoans Has Coronavirus Right Now, City’s Top Doctor Estimates

The city's seeing exponential growth in new COVID-19 cases, just as it did during the spring, officials warned. They expect that will lead to more people dying.

COVID-19 testing in Chicago.
Chicago Mayor's Office
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CHICAGO — An estimated 35,000-50,000 Chicagoans have active cases of coronavirus right now, the city’s top doctor said Thursday.

That means up to one in every 54 Chicagoans is currently sick and is potentially spreading COVID-19.

That’s why gatherings of all sizes “are posing significant health risks right now,” Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said at a Thursday news conference.

Arwady and Mayor Lori Lightfoot emphasized throughout the week Chicago’s in the midst of a second surge of coronavirus.

Arwady laid out the numbers Thursday: In Chicago, there have been 91,589 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those cases, 3,024 people have died, about 80,000 people have recovered and about 7,055 people have active infections.

But far more people have had or currently have coronavirus than the city’s data shows because many people haven’t been tested. The city’s experts estimate Chicago actually has five to seven times more active cases than the data shows — which would mean about 35,000-50,000 Chicagoans have active cases of COVID-19, Arwady said.

With Chicago’s population of about 2.7 million people, that translates to one out of 73 to one out of 54 Chicagoans having active COVID-19.

That number is only going up as the virus’s spread rapidly increases.

One week ago, an average of 454 new cases were being reported per day —but that’s up to 682 cases per day now, and some days this week have seen more than 900 cases reported, Arwady said.

“It is frightening, the rapidity with which these numbers are doubling on a day-by-day basis. The increase is startling,” Lightfoot said. “It’s really quite breath-taking. If you think abut where we were even two weeks ago … it’s like we’re back in the spring.”

Bars, restaurants, workplaces and schools have been linked to the virus’s spread. Bars, in particular, have been significant places of spread, city and state officials said Thursday.

But gatherings of people have been particularly problematic in the city, Arwady and Lightfoot said.

About two-thirds of Chicagoans who got COVID-19 recently said they got it from someone they know, like a family member, friend or coworker — and three out of four of those close interactions took place at home, according to the city.

To slow the spread, Arwady and Lightfoot on Monday asked Chicagoans to stop getting together with people outside their household — and especially not to invite people over to their home. If you must gather indoors, you should wear a mask and try to practice social distance, they said.

On Thursday, they announced a 10 p.m. curfew for bars, restaurants and non-essential businesses and said bars that don’t serve food can no longer have indoor service.

And, again, the two urged Chicagoans to stop gathering, with Lightfoot asking people to keep any groups they form to six people or less and to not gather after 10 p.m.

Even in a smaller group of 10 people, there’s still a 14 percent chance someone there has COVID-19, Arwady said, and the risk increases the larger the group.

“There is a 30 percent chance that someone in a group of 25 people has COVID-19,” Arwady said. “There is a 50 percent chance that someone in a group of 50 has COVID-19.”

Part of the issue is people feel safer in smaller groups where they’re with family and friends who they think are “safe,” so they let down their guard and don’t wear masks or social distance, Arwady and Lightfoot have said. That’s allowed the virus to spread.

The new cases are being seen in people of every ethnic/racial group and every age group, and they’re happening in every part of the city, Arwady said.

For much of the summer, it was younger people who were making up the bulk of new cases. But young people spread the virus to older people, Arwady said Thursday, and older people are now seeing a surge in new cases.

The number of people hospitalized with coronavirus is already going up.

“We are hearing, across Chicago, we’re hearing from our hospitals that they’re standing their COVID teams back up again. We’re hearing from all settings, including workplaces, that they’re seeing more people with COVID coming in,” Arwady said. “That’s because there’s so much more COVID here in Chicago. And when we see hospitalizations on the rise, and non-ICU hospitalizations also just starting to increase, we know there’s more to come.”

Deaths are still stable at about three per day in Chicago. But Arwady said the city expects to see more people dying from COVID-19 as a result of the surge and the new cases being seen among elderly people.

“I fully expect that we will see it, particularly if we can’t turn this around,” she said.

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