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COVID Cases Tick Up As Omicron BA.2 Spreads In City, But No Need For ‘Alarm,’ Top Doc Says

BA.2 is seeing cases double every seven days in Chicago, and it's expected to make up the bulk of the city's COVID-19 cases by the end of March.

A person runs on the Lake Front Trail near North Avenue Beach on Feb. 28, 2022, during warm weather.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — COVID-19 cases are beginning to tick up in Chicago — but there’s no need for alarm, the city’s top doctor said Tuesday.

Officials have repeatedly said in recent weeks that they’re watching the spread of Omicron sub-variant BA.2, which has caused new waves of infection in parts of Asia and Europe. The sub-variant — which is even more infectious than Omicron — is seeing cases double every seven days in Chicago, and it’s expected to make up the bulk of the city’s COVID-19 cases by the end of March, health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.

Chicago’s COVID-19 cases have come down since hitting record highs in late December and early January, and officials got rid of mask and vaccine card mandates.

But cases are now creeping back up. The city’s averaging 156 new confirmed cases per day, up 15 percent from a week ago. Testing is down by 5 percent from a week ago.

“We’ve seen a little bit of an uptake in cases,” Arwady said during a Tuesday news conference.

But other metrics in Chicago remain good, Arwady said: Hospitalizations and deaths are low, and the city’s positivity rate is a “beautiful” .8 percent. That’s slightly up from .7 percent last week.

“Better than almost anywhere in the country, even in the world,” Arwady said. “But we are starting to see a little bit of an increase. Nothing to be alarmed about.”

The uptick isn’t unexpected, as people have changed their behaviors and gotten more relaxed about COVID-19 in recent weeks, Arwady said. Chicago’s outbreak is “very much still in control,” she said.

“But something we’re keeping a close eye on,” Arwady said.

On Monday, Gov. JB Pritzker said state officials are also keeping an eye on BA.2 and watching to see if it will drive up cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Illinois. The state has replenished its stockpile of medical supplies and has about 1.5 million tests, with another 500,000 on the way, he said.

And though BA.2 is making up a rising percentage of cases in Illinois, there has not been a proportional uptick in reported cases and hospitalizations, Pritzker said.

Arwady said it’s reassuring that it appears people who got sick with the original version of Omicron have some protection against BA.2. And COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots offer protection against the variant, she said.

The health commissioner said other spots that have seen COVID-19 spikes from BA.2 were in different situations than Chicago: Many older residents of Hong Kong were not fully vaccinated, and the region has seen a record-breaking number of COVID-19 deaths during this wave as a result, she said.

And Arwady said she spoke to her counterpart in New Orleans, who noted the city just held Mardi Gras, a potential superspreader event as it brings together thousands of people to celebrate. But the city hasn’t seen “much trouble,” Arwady said.

“I do think we are seeing the beginnings of some increase here,” Arwady said. “The question: How much will that be?”

Arwady said she doesn’t have “as much concern” about BA.2 for now because the city was able to get through Omicron and see cases drop — but she said officials “have to be humble” when talking about COVID-19.

“At this point, we’ve not seen major signs like we’re seeing in Europe,” Arwady said. “We continue to watch. We’ll have a better sense of this, honestly, by the end of the month, when BA.2 will be dominant here.”

Vaccinations:

• In Illinois, about 8.1 million people — or 64.22 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data.

• Across the state, 7,412 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 21,289,890 vaccine doses of the 25,704,645 provided to them.

• City data shows more than 1.8 million Chicagoans — or 69.9 percent of all residents — are fully vaccinated, and 77.2 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, 44 Illinoisans were reported dead from COVID-19.

• At least 33,260 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 4,274 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.

• The state reported 1,442 cases since Monday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 3,057,078.

• Since Monday, 52,434 tests were reported statewide. In all, 56,607,579 tests have been reported in Illinois.

• Illinois’ seven-day case positivity rate was at 1.2 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was at 1.3 percent Monday.

• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 1.3 percent. It was at 1.3 percent Monday.

• As of Monday night, 76 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 35 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

• In Chicago, no deaths were reported since Monday. There have been at least 7,321 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of less than one person dying per day, down 62 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago has had 235 confirmed cases reported since Monday. It’s had a total of 563,610 confirmed cases. An average of 156 confirmed cases are being reported per day, up 15 percent from a week ago.

• Testing in Chicago is down 5 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago’s positivity rate was at .8 percent, up from .7 percent a week ago.

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