As federal health officials warn that the “delta” variant of COVID-19 is the “greatest threat” to the nation’s attempts to finally defeat the novel coronavirus, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady says that the city is focused on trying to vaccinate as many people as possible, emphasizing that it is the best path forward to turning back the advances of the variant.
While the “alpha” variant, first detected in the United Kingdom, is still the dominant variant in the city of Chicago, Arwady says that it’s possible the Delta variant will become more prevalent in the days and weeks ahead.
“We may see the Delta one become dominant. I think it’s possible,” she said. “It is certainly more contagious, and it may be making people sicker.”
According to White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, the delta variant now makes up approximately 20% of all new COVID cases reported in the United States. The variant is following a similar trajectory to that of the alpha variant, with infections doubling in the U.S. every two weeks.
Studies have suggested that the delta variant is 60% more contagious than the alpha variant, which spread rapidly because of its more-contagious nature, according to experts.
Experts believe that COVID-19 vaccinations are still largely effective even against the variants. Arwady echoed those sentiments in her press conference Tuesday, saying those residents who have received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, will have good protection even against the variant.
“The protection does actually remain quite good with Delta,” she said. “If you are not vaccinated, your chance of actually getting COVID if you’re exposed to it becomes higher because the virus itself is more contagious. You don’t need as much exposure to get sick, but as long as the vaccines remain protective and we continue to make progress there, I don’t have major concerns.”
Arwady says that the key to stamping out the Delta variant is to continue getting as many people vaccinated as possible, and city health officials are focused on giving all areas of the city access to the treatment.
“My biggest concern is we have whole pockets of Chicago that are still not vaccinated,” she said. “That’s where we’re seeing cases land.”
Arwady and the CDPH are focusing efforts less on mass-vaccination sites and more on hyper-local vaccination events, even going directly to people’s homes to improve access to the treatment.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, more than 54% of the state’s adult residents are fully vaccinated against COVID, with 70.6% of residents receiving at least one dose of the vaccine. Among senior citizens those rates are even higher, with 73.2% of residents 65 and older being fully vaccinated and 89.4% of residents receiving at least one shot.