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St. Patrick's Day Gatherings Could Be Driving Rise in COVID Metrics: Arwady

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Gatherings involving young people, possibly in celebration of St. Patrick's Day, could be behind the rising coronavirus metrics being reported in Chicago this week, the city's top doctor said Thursday.

"I think we have definitely seen, you know, young people gathering, including in situations like St. Patrick's Day, broadly driving some of this increase," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a Facebook Live Thursday.

According to Arwady, it appears young adults are seeing the largest increase in cases in recent days, a concerning trend reminiscent of last fall's surge.

Of the more than 6,700 cases reported so far this month, more than 4,300 were in residents between the ages of 18 and 49, city data showed.

According to the city, daily COVID cases are now at a "high-risk" level, with a 10% increase reported over at least five consecutive days. Emergency department visits for COVID-like illnesses have also increased by 38% in the last week.

The positivity rate also climbed to 3.4% Thursday, remaining in the low-risk category and far below the 30% high seen at the height of the pandemic, but marking an increase from a recent low of 2.7%.

The latest metrics include:

  • COVID cases diagnosed per day: currently averaging 365, in the “High-Risk” level and up 23% in the last week
  • COVID test positivity: currently averaging 3.4%, in the “Lower-Risk” level and up 18% in the last week
  • Emergency Department visits for COVID-like illness: currently averaging 73 per day, in the “Moderate-Risk” level and up 38% in the last week
  • ICU beds occupied by COVID patients: currently averaging 73, in the “Lower-Risk” level and up 3% in the last week

Chicago announced changes to its reopening plan Thursday aimed at preventing "a third surge of the virus in Chicago."

The city said it plans to keep most of its indoor restrictions in place, but outdoor capacity limits will increase at some establishments. And unlike under state guidelines, all people will continue to count towards capacity limits, even if they are fully vaccinated or have a recent negative test, the city said.

"Obviously, you know, we are all wanting to be moving ahead with reopening as it is safe. Right now, with these numbers, you know, this week is not the time to be expanding capacity, particularly in indoor settings, but we are making some moves in outdoor settings, recognizing that in outdoor settings where people, where the ventilation is naturally very good, as long as people are doing the masking and doing the social distancing," Arwady said.

Emerging variants of the coronavirus, believed to be more contagious, are also spreading across the city, Arwady said. Though she said she is "very confident" that as vaccinations continue to increase, expanding to Phase 1C beginning Monday, the situation will change.

"I'm still feeling very confident that, like, a little later in the spring, this summer, we are absolutely going to be in a place I'm feeling good about this, barring a new variant or some other real change here," Arwady said. "But right now with cases up to almost that 400 mark, the chances of there being someone with COVID who doesn't know it in a gathering, even a relatively small gathering, is quite high. And so this is what we're able to make the move on right now."

The increase in metrics, however, isn't unique to Chicago.

"They're actually worse in suburban Cook and the northeast, you know, the state overall," Arwady said. "Not an emergency yet, but these are... this is why we monitor these things and when we see signs of concern like this, it's a moment to watch and see what happens."

Her comments were echoed in part by Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, who said Tuesday that the state is "seeing some concerning plateaus and even increases in hospitalizations and cases."

“Even as we’re getting more and more vaccine doses, we cannot let our guard down, especially with these virulent new strains circulating,” Ezike said in a statement. “We’ve come so far and are so close to a more normal time, but we’re already seeing some concerning plateaus and even increases in hospitalizations and cases. We’re not out of the woods yet so continue to wear your masks, avoid large crowds, and keep six feet of distance.”

Health officials in Illinois on Wednesday reported 2,793 new coronavirus cases and 20 additional deaths, along with more than 107,000 vaccinations in the past 24 hours.

"I've been to this movie before and seen, you know, the rising positivity rates," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday. "And I'm concerned about it and I've been saying all along, even as we have addressed the mitigations and tried to lower mitigations here or there, I've said we got to be careful about the variants. And I am concerned, I must tell you, you know, as I see numbers go up, is that the variants or is it a blip in the data? You know, what is it exactly? So we'll keep watching very closely, but I can tell you there is more activity going on and I think people maybe are being a little less careful, and I want to remind everybody please keep your distance, please continue to wear your mask, please be respectful of others."

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