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Delta Variant Could Be As Contagious As Chickenpox, New Data Suggests — As Chicago Holds World’s Largest Music Festival

Even fully vaccinated people may be able to easily spread the Delta variant, new evidence suggests.

©SheaFlynn for Lollapalooza
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CHICAGO — The Delta variant could be just as contagious as chickenpox — and even fully vaccinated people can transmit it to others, new reports suggest.

At the same time, Lollapalooza is being held in Chicago.

It’s the largest festival being held in the world this year, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday, as the four-day festival kicked off. Lollapalooza routinely attracts 100,000 people per day.

“Lollapalooza … is the largest music festival in the world that is happening in 2021,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a news conference Thursday. “It’s a big deal, and we want to make sure that people have fun but do it in a way that’s safe.”

That combination — a highly contagious variant of coronavirus and a massive festival — have fueled concerns Lolla will turn into a super-spreader event, with Chicago at its heart.

Many have criticized Lightfoot for allowing the festival. Photos of the massive, tightly packed crowds at the festival and around the Downtown area have been widely shared online.

Chicago has already seen its cases and positivity rates spike in recent weeks, with officials blaming the Delta variant. Just in the past day, Chicago reported 316 confirmed cases.

And this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended people start wearing masks indoors in public in places seeing “substantial or high” community transmission. As of Thursday, that includes suburban Cook County, whose health department has advised even fully vaccinated people to start wearing masks indoors when out of their home.

The Washington Post obtained internal CDC documents that say the Delta variant is as infectious as chickenpox, which is highly contagious, and is even more contagious than the common cold, flu and Ebola.

New evidence also shows the variant can even be easily spread by fully vaccinated people, according to the CDC documents. That’s different from past variants, as vaccinated people who had those did not appear to spread the virus as easily.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told The New York Times on Friday that new research shows even people who are fully vaccinated have tremendous amounts of the virus in their nose and throat.

And the internal CDC documents also highlighted studies from Canada, Singapore and Scotland that suggest the Delta variant may increase the risk of someone needing to be hospitalized or dying, according to the Washington Post.

Still, breakthrough cases remain rare, and the vaccines being used in the United States remain effective at preventing serious illness and death.

That means Delta has hit unvaccinated people the hardest: In Chicago, about 97 percent of people recently hospitalized with or who have died from COVID-19 recently were not fully vaccinated, officials have said.

Lightfoot has repeatedly defended her decision to allow Lollapalooza to be held, saying officials have take safety precautions.

The festival is requiring attendees to show proof they’re fully vaccinated or to show they had a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of attending. People who aren’t fully vaccinated must wear masks, though it’s not clear how that’s being enforced.

Notably, a Dutch music festival now linked to 1,000 coronavirus cases had even stricter requirements: proof of vaccination or a negative test within 40 hours of festival attendance.

And Dr. Emily Landon, who’s regularly been called upon by the city and state to speak at coronavirus news conferences, told NBC the festival should likely be canceled or have stiffer safety restrictions.

Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said earlier this week there will “almost certainly” be cases of COVID-19 associated with Lollapalooza, but said organizers have “done everything” to take safety steps.

“I’m certainly hopeful that we won’t see a significant problem,” Arwady said. “And I certainly know we’re being a lot more responsible than many other settings that are just as large that are gathering around the country.”

And Lightfoot said Thursday that while Chicago’s case numbers have risen, its hospitalizations and deaths haven’t spiked.

Those numbers remain low but are on the rise as of Friday: Chicago’s now seeing an average of one death per day, a 75 percent increase from a week ago; and COVID-19 hospitalizations are up 106 percent, to an average of more than eight people daily.

Still, people need to get vaccinated, Lightfoot said.

“We need people to get vaccinated to protect themselves against the variant,” Lightfoot said. “Without that protection, you’re playing Russian roulette. this variant is real. It is deadly. And it is devastating to people that are on it.”

Vaccinations:

• In Illinois, about 6.4 million people of all ages — or 50.78 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — have gotten all their COVID-19 vaccine shots, according to state data.

• Across the state, 22,064 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 13,211,304 vaccine doses of the 14,844,245 provided to them.

• City data shows more than 1.4 million Chicagoans — or 52.2 percent of all residents — have gotten fully vaccinated. About 58.5 percent of all Chicagoans have gotten at least one shot.

COVID-19 vaccinations are free and do not require insurance. Anyone can call the city’s coronavirus hotline at 312-746-4835 to get more information on how and where to get vaccinated in their community.

The numbers:

• Eight Illinoisans were reported dead from COVID-19 since Thursday.

• At least 23,440 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 2,476 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.

• The state reported 2,348 cases since Thursday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 1,419,611.

• Since Thursday, 54,563 tests were reported statewide. In all, 26,823,562 tests have been reported in Illinois.

• Illinois’ seven-day positivity rate was at 4 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was also at 4 percent Thursday.

• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 4.7 percent. It was at 4.6 percent Thursday.

• As of Thursday night, 167 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 62 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

• In Chicago, one death was reported since Thursday. There have been at least 5,505 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of one death per day, a 75 percent decrease from the week prior.

• Chicago has had 316 confirmed cases reported since Thursday. It’s had a total of 289,724 confirmed cases. An average of 192 confirmed cases are being reported per day, a 64 percent increase from the week prior.

• At the same time, testing has increased 2 percent since a week ago.

• Chicago’s positivity rate was at 3 percent, up from 1.8 percent the week prior.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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