Omicron Variant

Will There Be Another COVID Variant After Omicron? Here's What Chicago's Top Doctor Says

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As the Chicago area has likely "passed the peak" of the omicron COVID-19 variant, according to the city's top doctor, could there be another strain on the horizon?

"I don't think we're done with variants," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said during a Facebook Live event.

Though new strains are expected to invade across the globe, Arwady said she's not sure what will "happen next after omicron," but hopes any future variants will be less infections and less severe.

"There are a lot of hypotheses that range from a best case scenario - best-case scenario would say this has been enough of a spread that we'll have enough people who have had protection and that protection will be more long lasting," Arwady said. "I don't think there's anybody in the world really who looks at this closely who thinks this will be the last variant. In a best most rosy-case scenario, future variants would be less virulent, less likely to make people sick, ideally less infectious, etc."

However, Arwady added that she does not expect "a new, very concerning variant very soon" because omicron has been more contagious and "out-competed" other strains thus far like delta.

"Am I confident that we have the surveillance in place to detect it? I absolutely am," she added.

As of Wednesday, Arwady said just 0.7% of the city's cases were believed to be caused by the delta variant.

"You can see 99.3% is the estimate of all of the COVID cases are the omicron variant and just 0.7% are delta and nothing else is showing up at this point," she said.

Arwady revealed that the city had "formally passed" the peak of the omicron variant, though she noted the city is "a long way from being out of the woods."

She highlighted early decreases in daily case averages, test positivity rates and hospitalizations, which indicates "a true peak," but said the city remains under high transmission risk.

According to the latest data from CDPH, Chicago was averaging 2,819 cases per day Thursday, a drop from 5,614 last week. The peak number of daily cases reported in January was 8,553 cases.

The city's test positivity rate was also down to 11.9% Thursday, after peaking on Jan. 1 at 19.6%. The average number of daily deaths related to COVID dropped 38% from last week and hospitalizations were down 3% Thursday.

While hospitalizations are seeing early signs of decline, ICU capacity is plateauing, Arwady said.

"It's really important over these next few weeks and months that we continue to work hard on getting folks vaccinated, getting folks tested, continuing to wear masks, because there's a long way to come down," she said. "However, I'm really pleased to have seen this turnaround."

Looking at the future of the coronavirus pandemic in Chicago, Arwady said health officials will likely treat it similar to influenza cases, constantly conducting tests to monitor new strains and prepare hospitals and health care providers.

However, she noted that the future of the pandemic remains unknown at this time.

"If the virus itself didn't change, we could do a pretty good job of I think predicting what would happen," Arwady said. "As the virus continues to have opportunities to mutate and change, which especially it can do in parts of the world that are less vaccinated, or parts of the city that are less vaccinated, in turn that gives it more opportunities to be able to evade, you know, natural immunity, vaccine-induced immunity. And it just wants to have survival. So the next couple of months are going to be really interesting to see."

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