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Chicago Might Have Avoided Huge BA.2 Wave Of COVID Cases, Top Doc Says

Chicago's seen cases rise slightly as BA.2 has spread, but the health commissioner said she's growing more confident the sub-variant won't lead to another major wave of cases here.

Angel Salgado, 5, waits in the chair for his second COVID-19 vaccine at Esperanza Health Centers Brighton Park on April 4, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — COVID-19 cases are trending up in Chicago as the BA.2 sub-variant spreads — but the signs aren’t pointing to another big surge, the city’s top doctor said Thursday.

BA.2 is even more contagious than the Omicron variant, which drove cases to record highs in late December and early January. BA.2’s rise to prominence in parts of Europe and Asia led to new waves of COVID-19 there.

But BA.2 is spreading in and around Chicago — it’s estimated to make up half of COVID-19 cases — and reported cases have only gone up slightly in recent weeks, health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said during a Thursday news conference.

That could be because Chicago and the United States were hit so hard by Omicron, which has left residents with some immunity to BA.2 on top of the protection they’re provided by vaccines, Arwady said.

“Because we have been hit so hard with the original Omicron … we actually are more protected than some places against BA.2,” Arwady said. “The most important thing is to be vaccinated, especially in terms of preventing that severe illness.

“But with every passing day, I am more confident that in the very short term we will avoid a major increase like we saw with the Omicron surge.”

Chicago’s reporting an average of 304 confirmed cases per day as of Thursday, up 28 percent from one week ago. That mirrors what’s been seen elsewhere in the United States, Arwady said.

New York City has had an increase similar to Chicago’s, but there’s been “nothing suggestive of the major Omicron surge that we saw in January,” Arwady said.

And deaths from COVID-19 are at at their lowest point since the pandemic’s start, Arwady said. The city is seeing an average of fewer than one person die from COVID-19 every day. Feb. 28 marked the first day since July 24 no resident had died from the virus.

The number of people being hospitalized with COVID-19 is also near its record low, with the city averaging seven new people hospitalized per day, Arwady said.

“This is thanks to all of you for getting vaccinated, first and foremost; and for wearing masks during the time we are in major surge and need to decrease the risk; … and for continuing to take care of yourself and others …,” Arwady said.

More people getting vaccinated and boosted would lead to fewer hospitalizations and deaths, Arwady said.

Arwady noted that Australia is being hit with a BA.2 wave that’s led to its positivity rate being far higher than the United States saw even at the peak of its Omicron wave — yet the number of people being hospitalized with and dying from COVID-19 has been lower in Australia than the United States experienced. That’s because Australia has higher vaccination rates, she said.

Arwady said people should get at-home tests to keep at home during this period of calm, and then they’ll have tests they can use if there’s another surge.

But the health commissioner urged people to also take this time to live life more normally and see others if their individual safety allows.

“I want you to hear that I am as concerned about how we recover from COVID related to our mental health as I am our physical health,” Arwady said. “I want to remind you that life is better with other people in it.

“And at this point, when COVID risk is relatively low, I really do want to encourage you to be making some of those social connections again, if you have not. I want to encourage you to be leaving your home.”

There will likely be a continued, gradual increase in the city’s case rate and positivity rate, Arwady said. She said she does not think Chicago is “over the hump” when it comes to BA.2.

But this could “look like a relatively limited surge,” Arwady said.

“We need to get to a point where BA.2 really is almost 100 percent of what we are seeing to really feel confident we are seeing its full impact. If I had to guess, April is going to be a month, for the most part, of continued, slow increase,” Arwady said. “If we see signs of any concern, of course, we’ll be out and notifying people.”

Vaccinations:

• In Illinois, about 8.2 million people — or 64.47 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data.

• Across the state, 19,597 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 21,487,432 vaccine doses of the 26,015,245 provided to them.

• City data shows more than 1.8 million Chicagoans — or 68.7 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 Tuesday, 20 Illinoisans were reported dead from COVID-19.

• At least 33,454 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 4,297 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.

• The state reported 3,690 cases since Tuesday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 3,078,124.

• Since Tuesday, 197,474 tests were reported statewide. In all, 57,791,677 tests have been reported in Illinois.

• Illinois’ seven-day case positivity rate was at 2 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was at 1.9 percent Tuesday.

• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 2.2 percent. It was at 2 percent Tuesday.

• As of Wednesday night, 57 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 22 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

• In Chicago, four deaths were reported since Tuesday. There have been at least 7,340 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of less than one person dying per day, down 67 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago has had 1,048 confirmed cases reported since Tuesday. It’s had a total of 568,540 confirmed cases. An average of 304 confirmed cases are being reported per day, up 28 percent from a week ago.

• Testing in Chicago is up 1 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago’s positivity rate was at 1.7 percent, up from 1.4 percent a week ago.

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