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More Than 95% Of Chicagoans Could Have Some Immunity To COVID, Top Doc Says

Dr. Allison Arwady said she'll stay on in her role as health commissioner, helping lead the city through this next phase of the pandemic.

Dr. Allison Arwady, Commissioner, Chicago Department of Public Health, speaks at a press conference promoting COVID-19 vaccination in Chicago communities of color at City Hall on Nov. 16, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The city’s health commissioner said she plans to keep leading the department, though her COVID-19 updates could become less frequent.

Dr. Allison Arwady, head of Chicago’s health department, said Thursday she plans to keep leading the agency while outlining possible changes to the city’s response now that cases, hospitalizations and death have fallen dramatically since the Omicron spike.

Arwady said officials estimate more than 90 or 95 percent of Chicagoans have at least some immunity to COVID-19, whether it be through having been vaccinated or having been exposed to the virus.

“We want to focus on having this be a disease that doesn’t make people critically ill,” Arwady said during a livestream.

But officials don’t expect to be able to eradicate COVID-19, Arwady said, and she’s urged people to still take precautions, like stay home if they test positive, wear a mask and get tested if they have symptoms of the virus and get vaccinated.

Health leaders across the country have resigned in recent weeks as cases, hospitalizations and deaths begin to fall after the record-breaking Omicron surge. Dr. Ngozi Ezike, who became widely recognized in her role as head of the Illinois Department of Public Health during the pandemic, announced Tuesday she’ll step down from that post on March 14.

Arwady said she intends to keep leading the agency as it navigates this next phase of the pandemic.

“I am not going anywhere,” Arwady said. “There’s nothing I would’ve rather been doing for these last two years, hard as they have been. And I am extremely committed to my team, to this work in Chicago and, frankly, to what comes next.”

Arwady said she wishes Ezike well and joked she is a “little jealous” of Ezike’s plans to take a breather. The two became the faces of Chicago’s and Illinois’ response to the pandemic, appearing together at updates and news conferences at times.

But changes are coming, Arwady said.

The doctor said she may start doing her COVID-19 livestreams just once a week in the future, though it’s not certain yet she’ll make that change. Arwady has held twice-weekly livestreams for months to answer Chicagoans’ questions about the pandemic.

The health department might also stop offering financial incentives to people to get vaccinated, though it continues to do so for now, Arwady said. The city has given people gift cards and other rewards to encourage them to get the vaccines so they’re protected against COVID-19.

The changes come as Chicago has seen a sharp fall in its COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths after hitting record-breaking peaks during the Omicron surge in late December and early January.

Chicago’s now reporting an average of 199 new cases per day and a positivity rate of 1 percent, which Arwady said she is “very happy to see.”

Chicago’s ended its mask and vaccine card mandates since it’s now considered low risk for the virus. Those mandates could return in the future if there’s another wave, Arwady said.

Vaccinations:

• In Illinois, about 8.1 million people — or 63.83 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data.

• Across the state, 12,680 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 21,146,167 vaccine doses of the 23,874,145 provided to them.

• City data shows more than 1.8 million Chicagoans — or 69.3 percent of all residents — are fully vaccinated, and 76.8 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 Wednesday, 38 Illinoisans were reported dead from COVID-19.

• At least 32,886 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 4,168 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.

• The state reported 1,169 cases since Wednesday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 3,035,870.

• Since Wednesday, 136,531 tests were reported statewide. In all, 54,954,495 tests have been reported in Illinois.

• Illinois’ seven-day case positivity rate was at 1.5 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was at 1.6 percent Wednesday.

• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 1.7 percent. It was at 1.8 percent Wednesday.

• As of Wednesday night, 162 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 82 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

• In Chicago, seven deaths were reported since Wednesday. There have been at least 7,260 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of four people dying per day, down 15 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago has had 248 confirmed cases reported since Wednesday. It’s had a total of 558,988 confirmed cases. An average of 199 confirmed cases are being reported per day, down 29 percent from a week ago.

• Testing in Chicago is down 7 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago’s positivity rate was at 1 percent, down from 1.4 percent a week ago.

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