Days after the city of Chicago and Cook County were deemed to have “substantial” transmission of COVID-19, triggering new recommendations that all residents wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status, city officials are urging cooperation with the new guidelines, saying that they are a temporary step to helping tamp down on the delta variant-fueled spread of the disease.
According to Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, the city crossed a key threshold on Friday, averaging more than 200 new cases of COVID per day.
While that number is still far below what the city had experienced in previous upticks and surges in cases, Arwady says that the new mask guidelines are a necessary step to help protect vulnerable populations from infection.
“I know it’s hard, especially for people who are vaccinated, to feel like they have to put a mask on. It feels like we’re taking a step backwards, but when you do that, you help protect people who have not yet been vaccinated,” she said.
The city’s new recommendations mirror the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week, which call for all individuals, regardless of whether they are vaccinated against COVID or not, to wear masks in areas where there is “substantial” or “high” levels of transmission of COVID-19.
Arwady says that the city is continuing to encourage people to get their COVID vaccines, and that coupling that push with the new mask recommendation could help to slow the spread of the virus.
“When our numbers are higher, like they are right now, you put on a mask. When you put on a mask, you predominately are protecting others,” she said.
According to Arwady, other metrics in the city remain at “low” transmission levels, including the city’s positivity rate, which stands at 3.1%. There are 121 people hospitalized due to COVID in Chicago, with 42 additional patients in intensive care unit beds.
The city is also averaging approximately one COVID death per day, far below previous surges in the virus.
Arwady says that she does expect those numbers to trend upward, but says that the addition of masking recommendations and more vaccinations to the equation could help to blunt those trends.
“It is not forever that we are making this mask recommendation for,” she said. “It helps protect you, your family and all of Chicago.”