Chicago officials are continuing to monitor the BA.2 omicron subvariant as the city sees a "slight increase" in COVID-19 cases and test positivity over the past week, the health department said Wednesday.
Despite the uptick, the Chicago Department of Public Health said the city remains in "good control" over the outbreak after lifting mask and vaccine requirements about one month ago.
Over the past week, 223 Chicagoans on average tested positive for COVID each day, according to CDPH data. Chicago's test positivity rose over the last week to 1.3% on an average of 20,016 tests daily.
Chicago is averaging 10 COVID hospitalizations and less than one death per day, which is nearly the lowest averages since the start of the pandemic, CDPH noted.
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Health officials said that Chicago, Cook County and all counties in Illinois remain at low risk for transmission, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"It is not surprising to see a slight increase in cases as behavior changes, but we continue to monitor this closely,” said CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady. “If the increase in cases does concern people, the most important thing you can do to protect yourself from severe outcomes remains the same: ensure you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations.”
The BA.2 subvariant of COVID, otherwise known as “stealth omicron,” is now the dominant strain of the virus in the Midwest and in the United States, according to new estimates released Tuesday by the CDC.
The estimates peg the percentage of BA.2 cases at 50.4% of all COVID cases in a six-state region of the Midwest that includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. CDPH said officials will continue to monitor this strain.
In the United States as a whole, the CDC estimates that 54.9% of all COVID cases are tied to the “stealth omicron” variant.
Experts have said that they believed that the BA.2 subvariant would ultimately become the dominant strain of the virus in the United States, following a pattern set in China, Israel, and parts of Europe, all of whom are seeing increases in COVID cases due to the variant.
While cases nationwide have begun to rise in recent weeks, case numbers in the state of Illinois have remained largely stable. As of Tuesday, the state is averaging 1,178 new cases of COVID per day, an increase of 10% in the last week.
Hospitalizations remain near record lows, as do ICU admissions because of COVID, but officials say they will continue monitoring COVID trends in the event that a significant uptick in cases is observed.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical advisor, says that he does not anticipate another surge in cases, but says that the new subvariant could cause COVID cases to rise in coming weeks.
According to the U.K. Health Security Agency, the BA.2 subvariant spreads approximately 75% faster than the earlier version of omicron, BA.1. Even still, spikes in cases in the U.K. and Germany caused by the variant have already begun to roll back.
Experts also suggest that BA.2 does not make people sicker than previous strains of the omicron variant, according to data from South Africa and the U.K.