The coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 thought to be behind skyrocketing infection rates in Great Britain and Ireland has been discovered in Chicago, after already having been found in several other places in the United States.
“This news isn’t surprising and doesn’t change our guidance around COVID-19. We must double down on the recommended safety strategies we know help stop the spread of this virus,” said Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) Commissioner Allison Arwady in a statement.
“In order to protect Chicago, please continue to wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands often, do not have outside guests in your home, and get vaccinated when it is your turn.”
While there is evidence that the variant spreads more easily than other coronavirus strains, there is no evidence that it affects the sensitivity of diagnostic tests or causes more severe forms of COVID-19.
The positive case came from an individual whose sample was bio-banked and sequence-analyzed at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine from a series of COVID-19-positive tests. The patient had traveled to the United Kingdom and the Middle East in the past 14 days, and CDPH is doing contact-tracing.
During a press conference in which he announced some downstate regions have seen enough progress against coronavirus to reduce mitigations in effect, Gov. J.B. Pritzker acknowledged the development and stressed that Illinoisans "must remain vigilant if we are to maintain our progress."
"That's going to be up to each and every one of us, to keep our schools open and see an economic recovery that restores jobs and businesses, we've got to wear our masks, limit interactions with people outside our households and get vaccinated when it's our turn," he said.
Once Illinois regions are in Tier 1 of Phase 4 of the "Restore Illinois" plan, bars and restaurants will be allowed to serve food indoors at a 25% occupancy or 25 people per room, with tables of no more than four people.
"Bars and restaurants have carried an extremely heavy burden throughout this public health crisis through no fault of their own, and I've had continuous conversations with public health experts and industry leaders about adjustments we can make in order to help these institutions operate more safely," Pritzker said.
"There is no 21st century pandemic playbook, but it's always been by goal to balance supporting my hospital systems with supporting economic vitality and a strong recovery. As we ramp up vaccine distribution efforts across the state, we're able to adjust our mitigation efforts further while maintaining that balance."
Chicago, which is Region 11, is currently in Tier 3.
On Jan. 14, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called for restaurants and bars to be reopened "as soon as possible," citing people's need for recreation and a supposed ability for indoor dining and drinking to be done safely.
On Friday, Pritzker threw cold water on that request, noting that restaurants and bars are "an amplification point for infection" when there is high community spread of COVID-19.
He said he had spoken to Lightfoot about her lobbying for indoor dining to be allowed in Chicago and said the city "unfortunately at this moment, although it's headed very much in the right direction, still is in Tier 3, and there is a very high positivity rate and a challenge with their COVID hospitalizations that doesn't quite meet the metrics."
"The whole reason that we're at a point where things are moving in a right direction is because people are following the mitigations, and the vast majority of restaurants, bars and hospitality locations are doing the right thing. They are following the mitigations, and we've provided some relief to them," Pritzker said. "There's more relief coming with the Biden plan, which I'm very happy about, and I've lobbied for."
Included in Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus, the "American Rescue Plan," is $400 billion in funding for the goal of getting 100 million doses to Americans in the first 100 days of his presidency, or April 30, The Associated Press reports. Biden furthermore has said he will invoke the Defense Production Act to maximize vaccine and material supply.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that the Trump's administration falsely promise to release stockpiled doses of vaccine. The vaccines, instead of coming out of a stockpile, are coming to states directly off the assembly line.
"I think you can all now see why I have been upset at times, why I have been upset with the mismanagement by the Trump administration," Pritzker said, adding that he does not think the outgoing administration knows if there is vaccine available to give to the states.
Pritzker said his administration is hopeful that Biden's promised invocation of the Defense Production Act will deliver much-needed vaccine to Americans.
Time is of the essence. On Friday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention warned that B.1.1.7 modeling "exhibits rapid growth in early 2021, becoming the predominant variant in March," by which point increased coronavirus transmission "might threaten strained health care resources, require extended and more rigorous implementation of public health strategies and increase the percentage of population immunity required for pandemic control."
"Early efforts that can limit the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant, such as universal and increased compliance with public health mitigation strategies, will allow more time for ongoing vaccination to achieve higher population-level immunity," the CDC report said.
From Jan. 3-9, percent-positivities dropped in two out of the four mid-South Side lakefront ZIP codes:
- In 60653, covering North Kenwood and Bronzeville, there were 72 confirmed cases of COVID-19, compared to 53 from Dec. 27 to Jan. 2, and one death, the same as the week before. There was a 5.9% positivity rate out of 1,224 tests performed, up from 5.5% from the week before. The number of tests performed increased 27%.
- In 60615, covering northern Hyde Park, southern Kenwood and northern Washington Park, there were 59 confirmed cases, up from 55 the week before, and four deaths, up from one the week before. There was a 3.3% positivity rate out of 1,777 tests, down from 5.2% the week before. The number of tests performed rose 69%.
- In 60637, covering southern Hyde Park, southern Washington Park and Woodlawn, there were 104 confirmed cases, up from 66 the week before, and no deaths, down from two the week before. There was a 5.8% positivity rate out of 1,779 tests, up from 5.5% the week before. The number of tests performed rose 49%.
- In 60649, South Shore, there were 95 confirmed cases, up from 83 the week before, and one death, up from none the week before. There was a 6.3% positivity out of 1,442 tests, down from 7.9% the week before. The number of tests performed rose 36%.
The city’s figures are accurate as of Friday, Jan. 15, recorded at chi.gov/coviddash and change as additional past data comes in.
From Jan 2-8, the University of Chicago reported 14 positive coronavirus cases out of 3,103 tests; the week before, the school identified three positive cases out of 1,373 tests. All test results are reported to the city.
Since Sept. 18, there have been 597 total coronavirus cases at the U. of C.
As of Jan. 15, there were 56 patients with COVID-19 at the UCMC. On Dec. 30, there were 91, and on Dec. 2, there were 108. At the height of the first surge, in April, there were 140.
The city's website for free COVID-19 testing is chicagocovidtesting.com; more information is available at chi.gov/covidtesting, and the city's website for vaccine information is www.chicago.gov/covidvax.
Testing is available in Hyde Park, Kenwood and Woodlawn at:
- Howard Brown Health, 1525 E. 55th St., www.howardbrown.org/service/covid-19-services, 773-388-1600
- Friend Health Cottage Grove, 800 E. 55th St., and Friend Health Woodlawn, 1522 E. 63rd., www.friendfhc.org/covid.html, 773-702-0660 (appointments recommended)
- The University of Chicago Medical Center, www.uchicagomedicine.org/covid-testing, 773-702-2800 (appointments required, and patients must be symptomatic)
- Komed Holman Health Center, 4259 S. Berkeley Ave., www.nearnorthhealth.org/covid-19, 773-268-7600.