While some residents have expressed concerns that rollbacks of coronavirus restrictions could lead to surges in virus cases, Dr. Allison Arwady says that she is “very confident” that case numbers are low enough in the state to prevent a large surge from happening in the early stages of summer.
Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, spoke out about the possibility of a surge Thursday, just one day ahead of the state’s move into Phase 5 of its reopening plan. That phase will remove all capacity limits from businesses and large-scale events, signaling that the state is ready to fully reopen for the first time in nearly 15 months.
“All the modeling looks very good when we look in the short term over the next few weeks,” she said. “So I’m not concerned in the short term about a major spike in COVID.”
Arwady pointed to increases in the number of vaccinated individuals as a key component in the decision to move forward. According to Illinois Department of Public Health data, more than 51% of the state’s adult residents are now fully vaccinated against COVID, with more than 68% having received at least one COVID vaccine dose.
“Before there was a vaccine, we were often having to make these decisions about turning the dial and sort of opening and how many people can be in spaces, and what that protection is because we knew there was an amount of COVID and a widely susceptible population,” she said. “(Now), there is much more protection broadly, and our numbers are so much lower at this point so that there are many fewer chains of transmission, and so we’re able to do that sort of contact tracing.”
Arwady cited countries like Israel as a model for how things are proceeding in Illinois. In that country, one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, widespread outbreaks have not occurred since reopening due to the virus having fewer hosts to infect, Arwady says.
“Where we are seeing some surges around the world, they tend to be in settings where the vaccine is really not widely available,” she said.
The commissioner did say that there could be an increase in COVID cases later this year, as more people participate in indoor activities.
“I think there could be a seasonal component to this (long term),” Arwady said. “In the same we think about the flu season, that could be how COVID comes back. If it does, it could land on vaccinated communities and unvaccinated social networks, but only time will tell.”
Hospitalizations and positivity rates in Illinois are at their lowest levels of the pandemic, with fewer than 800 people currently hospitalized because of the virus. The state’s positivity rate on COVID tests is at 1.3%, the lowest it has been measured during the pandemic.
State officials say that COVID restrictions could be restored if metrics begin to rise again. All restrictions will be dropped on Friday, with mask mandates remaining in place where required by federal and state law, according to officials.