Chicago’s top doc sees city COVID risk rising – Crain’s Chicago Business


With the average number of new daily cases up 76 percent, Chicago’s top doctor expects the city to move from “low” to “moderate” community risk within the next few days.

Surpassing 200 new COVID-19 cases per day could trigger some masking recommendations for people who are older or have underlying conditions, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said during a press conference today.

“I want people to be concerned, but I don’t want there to be unnecessary panic at this point,” Arwady said. “I just want to make sure people get vaccinated.” (See vaccination and case count statistics below.)

However, Arwady said hitting 400 new cases per day, or 15 daily cases per 100,000 people, would put Chicago at a higher risk for community spread.

“If we get to a point where we’re at that higher risk, it probably would make sense” to issue a mask mandate, Arwady said, with any requirement being based on “our local data and our local risk.”

Meanwhile, the CDC today recommended that fully vaccinated people resume masking indoors in areas with high transmission. 

The federal agency in May said fully vaccinated people no longer would be required to wear masks in most indoor settings. Following the guidance, Gov. J.B. Pritzker rescinded emergency rules enforcing masking and social distancing in most indoor and outdoor settings. 

As the delta variant spreads and cases increase across the country, nine more states, including Texas and Tennessee, are reporting 15 or more daily cases per 100,000 people. Unvaccinated people traveling from the 15 places on Chicago’s travel advisory should get a COVID test prior to arrival in Chicago or quarantine for 10 days upon arrival, CDPH says.

Asked whether Lollapalooza, which starts Thursday, is likely to turn into a superspreader event, Arwady said “I can’t promise there won’t be any COVID cases associated with Lolla. When you have this many folks who are coming through, almost certainly there will be some cases.” But considering the limited risk associated with outdoor settings, vaccination and testing, “I’m certainly hopeful that we won’t see a significant problem,” she said.

Arwady also cleared up confusion about the COVID testing requirement for unvaccinated music festival attendees. Since it can take longer that 24 hours to get a PCR test result, the city is requiring that unvaccinated attendees test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of the event.

Chicago’s average weekly test positivity rate is 2.6 percent as of July 22, compared with 1.3 percent the week prior. The average number of new cases per day is 165, up 76 percent from the week prior, and hospitalizations are up 5 percent. 

Since January, 97 percent of hospitalizations and deaths have been among people are who not fully vaccinated, Arwady said. Of those who were vaccinated and died, all had underlying medical conditions and the median age was 79, she said.

Nearly 52 percent of Chicagoans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 58 percent have gotten at least one dose. Infectious disease experts say a vaccination rate of at least 70 percent is needed to reach herd immunity and prevent the virus from mutating.

To meet increasing demand for in-home vaccinations, CDPH is expanding its Protect Chicago at Home program for residents 12 and older, doubling capacity to accommodate 900 appointments per week. The move aims to decrease wait times and make it easier for residents to get vaccinated. The city also is providing $25 Visa gift cards to anyone vaccinated at home.

More than 5,800 Chicagoans have been vaccinated at home since the program launched in March to serve homebound seniors and people with disabilities.