As COVID-19 cases continue to rise around the United States, Chicago's top doctor says she expects that trend to keep going before any reversal takes place.
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, says that the city's positivity rate has soared to nearly 5% in recent weeks, and she expects metrics to continue to rise in the coming days.
"In this wave...it's likely that we'll have even more cases before we see it turn around," she said. "And the last thing we want to do is to have people really see the hospitalization numbers going up significantly."
The city of Chicago is currently averaging 893 new cases of COVID per day, and 231 new cases per 100,000 residents per week, according to the city's data dashboard.
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That latter number would place the city in the "medium community level of COVID" classification under current CDC guidelines, and as a result city health officials are urging residents to wear masks while in indoor spaces.
"I am back to wearing mine when I'm out and about, especially if I'm in settings where I don't know everybody or if it's in a crowd," Arwady said.
Hospitalizations are actually down over the last week, falling to 3.5 admissions per 100,000 residents per week. That number is significantly lower than the 10 new weekly admissions that the CDC says would signal that the city is in the "medium community level" of the virus.
Arwady says that it's possible that strong vaccination numbers in the state and city could be playing a role in that slow increase in hospitalizations, but says that illnesses from the previous omicron wave over the winter could still be providing protection.
"That initial omicron wave continues to provide some level of protection, (although) it's not the way you want to get more protection," she said.
Even still, the rise in COVID cases could signify that the United States is in a "fifth wave" of COVID cases, accordijng to some health experts.
In the last week alone, COVID cases in the state of Illinois have gone up by more than 40%, while hospitalizations have also begun a slow increase, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“If you look at our rates, (and) if you look, for example, at the CDC maps, we are right up there with the east coast,” Dr. Sharon Welbel of Cook County Health says.
The East Coast has been seeing rapid increases in COVID cases in recent weeks, largely fueled by a new subvariant of omicron. Numerous counties are now considered to be at a “high community level” of the virus, with officials raising alerts that residents may need to take serious precautions to avoid becoming sick.
“The virus mutates very readily, and it mutates frequently,” Dr. Robert Citronberg of Advocate Aurora Health says. “And that’s why we have so many variants.”
While no Illinois counties are at the “high community level” of COVID, there are 14 that are currently at a “medium community level” of the virus. That includes Cook County, as well as seven other Chicago-area counties, according to CDC data.
Statewide, Illinois is now averaging 5,154 new cases of the virus per day, a 41.6% increase over a week ago and an increase of more than 180% in the last month, according to IDPH data.
Hospitalizations have increased by just over 5% in the last week, with 777 Illinois patients who have tested positive for COVID.
Those hospitalization trends, along with the fact that more than 73% of eligible state residents are fully vaccinated against COVID, are giving officials some hope that a massive surge, and potential lockdowns, can be avoided.
Even still, there is still concern that numbers will continue to trend upward in the weeks to come.
“The more people that get vaccinated, the less likely it is to have any shutdowns,” Citronberg said. “That being said, I do not anticipate any significant shutdowns in our area.”
While Chicago health officials are encouraging residents to wear masks in indoor places, they are not issuing any new mandates to that effect. If the county goes into a “high community level” of the virus, then such mandates could conceivably return to line up with CDC guidelines.
Whether such a move would occur remains unknown, however.