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Omicron Likely To Be Found In Chicago ‘Very Shortly,’ But More Information On COVID-19 Variant Needed, Top Doc Says

Even without Omicron, which is thought to be highly transmissible, Chicago has struggled with its coronavirus outbreak in recent weeks.

Irma from Tinley Park receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Esperanza Health Centers, 6057 S. Western Ave., on Nov. 4, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The Omicron variant of COVID-19 will likely be found in Chicago “very, very shortly,” the city’s top doctor said Tuesday.

The variant has gained massive public attention in recent days over concerns it’s even more transmissible than the highly contagious Delta variant. The first detected cases were found in Botswana and South Africa in mid-November, and cases have been found in other countries since then.

Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said she expects the variant will soon be found in Chicago, as she’d be “very surprised” if it was not already in the city. But it’s too soon to say how concerned people should be about it, she said.

“I would be very surprised if there is not already some Omicron here, and I would expect that we would see some cases likely detected in the days or weeks to come,” Arwady said during a Tuesday livestream. At another point, she said, “The question is not can we detect it. The question is what is our response. … Vaccinating is, by far, the most important thing. Boosters also important … .”

It’s likely the variant is more transmissible, and that people who were previously infected with COVID-19 or who are vaccinated might be less protected against Omicron than other variants, Arwady said.

But it’s “unclear” as of now if the variant causes more severe illness in infected people, and officials do not have concerns that tests won’t detect it, she said.

Arwady also said she’s excited about upcoming antiviral medications that can treat people with COVID-19, and she does not expect those pills will be rendered less effective by Omicron.

“The sky is not falling at this point, and we’ll know more in the next couple of weeks,” she said. Later, she said, “The larger concerns right not are about the transmissibility … and then maybe around this immune escape. And that’s what we’ll have much more information about in the days to come.”

Arwady said that she is not personally concerned about the variant as a person who is vaccinated, has gotten a booster shot and takes COVID-19 safety precautions. But she worries about the variant on a population-wide level, especially since unvaccinated people don’t have protection against the virus. She said she expects the variant will soon out-compete the Delta variant.

“I don’t know for sure what the future will hold here,” she said.

To highlight the variant’s transmissibility, Arwady laid out a timeline of variants in South Africa:

  • It took about 100 days for half of the virus cases in South Africa to be the Beta variant.
  • It took about 100 days for 90 percent of the virus cases in South Africa to be the Delta variant.
  • It took about 10 days to get to a point where 90 percent of cases in South Africa are the Omicron variant.

Even without Omicron, Chicago has struggled with its coronavirus outbreak in recent weeks. Cases, positivity rates and deaths have risen sharply as the weather has cooled.

The average number of new cases being reported in Chicago has dropped in recent days, but that’s only because testing fell significantly over Thanksgiving, Arwady said. Testing is down 22 percent since a week ago.

Even with the drop, Chicago is reporting an average of 493 cases per day, meaning the city is still considered a high-risk setting for transmission.

Those decreases follow the same pattern that happened last year after Thanksgiving and Christmas, Arwady said; during the 2020 holidays, the drop was followed by another increase as testing rose. She said she expects to see that happen again.

Arwady urged people to get vaccinated and get their booster shot to be protected against the virus.


• In Illinois, about 7.3 million people — or 57.96 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data.

• Across the state, 47,423 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 17,288,192 vaccine doses of the 20,045,935 provided to them.

• City data shows more than 1.6 million Chicagoans — or 61.1 percent of all residents — are fully vaccinated, and 68.3 percent of all Chicagoans have gotten at least one shot.

Everyone 5 and older is eligible to get vaccinated in Chicago.

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:

• Twenty-three Illinoisans were reported dead from COVID-19 since Monday.

• At least 26,414 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 2,962 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.

• The state reported 5,714 cases since Monday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 1,809,875.

• Since Monday, 125,128 tests were reported statewide. In all, 39,115,497 tests have been reported in Illinois.

• Illinois’ seven-day case positivity rate was at 4.1 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was at 4.1 percent Monday.

• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 5.2 percent. It was at 5.2 percent Monday.

• As of Monday night, 457 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 217 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

• In Chicago, 11 deaths was reported since Monday. There have been at least 6,010 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of less than one person dying per day, down 84 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago has had 551 confirmed cases reported since Monday. It’s had a total of 343,700 confirmed cases. An average of 493 confirmed cases are being reported per day, down 18 percent from the week prior.

• Testing in Chicago is down 22 percent since a week ago.

• Chicago’s positivity rate was at 3.5 percent, up from 3 percent the week prior.

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