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Chicago’s Omicron Peak Should Come In January, Top Doctor Says

"The news is not good. The COVID case rate in Chicago is the highest it has been since the beginning of the pandemic," Dr. Allison Arwady said. But the growth is slowing.

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is extracted from a vial at Esperanza Health Centers, 6057 S. Western Ave., on Nov. 4, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Chicago’s Omicron wave should peak in January, the city’s top doctor said Tuesday.

Cases have rapidly risen in Chicago due to the Omicron variant; on Dec. 1, the city was reporting an average of 454 confirmed cases per day — but as of Tuesday, it’s averaging of 4,591 confirmed cases per day. Its positivity rate has risen from 3.6 percent on Dec. 1 to 23.6 percent.

The city and all of Illinois have also seen the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 and dying from the virus rise significantly, with hospital officials warning about being overwhelmed. Chicago has already broken its record for patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

“The news is not good. The COVID case rate in Chicago is the highest it has been since the beginning of the pandemic,” Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said during a Tuesday news conference.

But the increase — while still happening — has slowed somewhat.

Based on the slowing growth and what’s been seen in other places, Chicago’s best-case scenario is seeing a peak in cases in mid-January, Arwady said.

“I do want to a put a caveat that we are watching really closely what’s happening in Europe and the U.K. …,” Arwady said. “We have not clearly seen yet a sign of decrease in those settings. We have definitely seen signs of slowed increase” in those places and in Chicago.

Arwady and other officials are watching what’s happening in Europe, the United Kingdom and New York City — which all got hit with the Omicron wave a bit earlier than Chicago — to see what could happen here.

Arwady said she’s 85-90 percent sure Chicago’s latest COVID-19 wave will peak in January, and 50 percent sure that will occur in the first half of the month. She said she won’t feel reassured until the city’s numbers do start to come down, though, and there’s no way to know for certain when Omicron will peak.

“We’ll see, and we’ll know much more in a week or so, I think, particularly looking to Europe,” she said. “In the meantime, now is this time to get vaccinated, really, truly, especially for protecting the hospitals.”

In South Africa, which was the first place to “really detect” a significant surge with Omicron, it took about four weeks for the variant to peak, and then another “couple of weeks” for numbers to come back down, Arwady said.

But South Africa differs from Europe and the United States in key ways: It has a much younger population and had differing rates of vaccination and prior infection, Arwady said. That means the waves locally could be different from what was seen in South Africa.

It’s unvaccinated people who have been hit hardest by this latest wave of the pandemic, Arwady said.

Vaccines still protect against infection, though there have been more breakthrough cases, Arwady said. And the vaccines and booster shots offer significant protection against severe illness and death.

Vaccinations:

• In Illinois, about 7.7 million people — or 60.71 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data.

• Across the state, 46,926 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 19,357,296 vaccine doses of the 21,334,505 provided to them.

• City data shows more than 1.7 million Chicagoans — or 64.6 percent of all residents — are fully vaccinated, and 72 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:

• Since Monday, 79 Illinoisans were reported dead from COVID-19.

• At least 28,077 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 3,235 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.

• The state reported 23,423 cases since Monday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 2,263,166.

• Since Monday, 125,819 tests were reported statewide. In all, 45,305,412 tests have been reported in Illinois.

• Illinois’ seven-day case positivity rate was at 13.2 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was at 12.8 percent Monday.

• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 17.6 percent. It was at 17.5 percent Monday.

• As of Monday night, 1,118 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 658 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

• In Chicago, 35 deaths were reported since Monday. There have been at least 6,334 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of more than eight people dying per day, down 21 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago has had 4,450 confirmed cases reported since Thursday. It’s had a total of 443,868 confirmed cases. An average of 4,591 confirmed cases are being reported per day, up 7 percent from a week ago.

• Testing in Chicago is down 41 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago’s positivity rate is at 23.6 percent, up from 13.6 percent the week prior.

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