While Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, says that the coronavirus vaccine is the surest way to protect residents against all current strains of the virus, including the delta variant, she is concerned that continued infections could lead to bigger problems for health officials and the general public to deal with.
As Arwady was announcing the city’s new mask mandate on Tuesday, she said that if residents continue to be infected with all strains of the virus, then the potential only increases that one of those variants could mutate into a new strain that is resistant to currently-available COVID vaccines.
“I’m the most worried about the potential for new variants that can emerge (and) that the vaccines are not protective against, and then all bets are off,” she said.
Arwady says that the mask mandate, which will require that all individuals entering indoor public areas in Chicago to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, will be the only new policy enacted amid a surge in cases caused by the delta variant of the virus.
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Officials say that no occupancy limits or other mitigations are planned, but Arwady indicated that the emergence of more variants could pose new challenges.
“If we were to see a variant emerge that the vaccine really did not protect against, that would be one of the things that would be a real game-changer for me in terms of thinking about what do we need to do at the whole societal level,” she said.
Even still, Arwady says that other metrics are still at “low-risk” levels, including hospitalizations and deaths. Positivity rates on tests have been going up in recent weeks, and the city of Chicago is now seeing an average of more than 400 new cases of the virus per day.
Arwady hopes that the Chicago area can dispense with the mask mandate within a relatively short amount of time through increased vaccinations, with an uptick in individuals seeking shots amid the delta-driven surge, and through masking.
“I expect that in the next few weeks to a month or two, we’ll be sort of hopefully getting through this surge,” she said.