Chicago's coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths likely won't peak for several weeks, possibly even longer if the city sees a post-Thanksgiving surge in cases, according to the city's top public health official.
With Thanksgiving approaching, both Chicago and state health officials have expressed concerns over the rising number of coronavirus hospitalizations, but Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said a mid-December peak is an optimistic estimate.
As of Wednesday, Chicago reported more than 1,000 patients in hospitals with COVID-19 and more than 300 people in intensive care units. Both of those numbers mark an increased from early October and the city has "not seen any slowing."
According to Arwady, there's usually a 17-day lag between a rise in cases and a surge in ICU patients. Because of that, Chicago's hospitalizations could peak in mid-December, followed later by a peak in deaths.
"That would be if we can hold the very early progress that we have seen," she said. "And that's a big if I think across the country. There has not been any signs of flattening at all in hospitalizations or breaking records. And there's not going to be a lot of capacity to surge hospital staff, in particular, between regions. So the reason we're kind of, you know, have sounded this alarm so strongly is that an unmitigated rise in cases does lead inevitably to an unmitigated rise and hospitalizations. And then ICUs and then deaths."
Since Oct. 19, COVID-19 deaths have risen four times, Arwady noted.
"We're up to almost 100 deaths every week among Chicago residents," she said. "Even if this surge was done right now we would not expect our deaths to peak for several weeks."
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot echoed that concern, saying the city remains on track to see an additional 1,000 deaths by the New Year in the city alone.
"That should be a sobering reminder and figure for all of us," she said. "But what that number doesn't include is the broader impact this second surge of COVID-19 has on our healthcare system and also on individual lives. On the health care system this includes limited hospital beds, staff, supplies, not to mention the long-term impacts on the survivors of COVID-19. What we are hearing here and around the world is survivors who've been experiencing ongoing challenges ranging from continued trouble breathing, fatigue, migraines, pain and numbness, dizziness, tremors, blurred vision, memory loss and continued loss of smell and taste, and more, which scientists and health officials are still working to understand. That is why we are asking every Chicagoan to avoid travel and avoid visiting someone else's home this Thanksgiving holiday and weekend."
City officials highlight a meme that has been spreading on social media stating "It's better to have a Zoom Thanksgiving than an ICU Christmas."
"It's true and I want you to think about that as you're making your decisions not just for Thursday but for Black Friday, for the weekend that comes and during the whole time that Chicago remains under that stay-at-home advisory, which does take us right now through the middle of December," Arwady said.
Chicago's cases are now at a point where more than one resident is being diagnosed with COVID-19 every minute, according to Arwady.
"If we look at our case numbers we are now averaging still nearly 2,000 new cases diagnosed every day in Chicago residents," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Wednesday as she urged people to avoid gathering for the Thanksgiving holiday. "That's six times what we were seeing in September, 10 times what we were seeing in June and we still have more than one Chicago being diagnosed with COVID every minute, assuming that we're testing 24 hours per day."
As of Wednesday, data showed more than 150,000 Chicago residents have been diagnosed with coronavirus since the pandemic began in the spring. Of those cases, 15% remain active, 83% have recovered and 2% have died, Arwady said. She noted, however, that the actual number of infections is estimated to be five to seven times higher when accounting for people who did not get tested or who have shown no symptoms.
"That means our estimate is between 110,000 and 160,000 Chicagoans have active, meaning infectious, COVID right now," Arwady said. "And that means as many as one in 17 Chicagoans still has active COVID right now. That's a tiny bit better than it was last week, where one in 15 Chicagoans had active COVID, but one in 17 Chicagoans is in that range. Between one in 17 and one in 25 is at a point where it is not safe to gather and where we need everybody as we have directed under the stay-at-home advisory to be staying home unless it's for work, school or essential purposes."