COVID-19 cases are up 83% along the lakefront in the mid-South Side over the past week, from 59 to 108 cases. While many parts of the country are moving back to mask mandates, Chicago is not, though public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said people who are concerned or uncomfortable can wear one.
Public health guidelines remain unchanged for unvaccinated Chicagoans, who should be wearing one while they are inside and in public. Public health officials also suggest that they get vaccinated.
At a July 27 press briefing, public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the city remains in good control of the coronavirus situation, though the rest of the country is not. Fourteen mostly Southern states are now on the Chicago Department of Public Health's travel advisory for having more than 15 cases a day per 100,000 residents.
"I know there's a lot of concern about COVID here in Chicago; I'm glad for that concern, because I want people to take this seriously, and I want people to get vaccinated," Arwady said. "This is the delta variant spreading across the U.S."
Chicago's trends are going in the wrong direction. Arwady expects the city to soon have more than 200 COVID-19 diagnoses a day — a figure which Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently told The New York Times she would use as a benchmark for reestablishing a face mask mandate. Test positivity is increasing.
Cases, unsurprisingly, are tracking alongside vaccination rates: lower among vaccinated people, higher among unvaccinated people. Where case rates are rising fastest, in the city and across the country, are the places with the fewest amount of vaccinated people.
Said Arwady, "When our numbers in Chicago are low, the chance of you running into somebody with COVID is low. It's just that, it's numbers of chance. As the numbers of people in Chicago with COVID increase, the risk of you running into somebody with COVID and being exposed goes up, and then whether you get sick from that person, the biggest difference is whether or not you are vaccinated."
In Chicago, the data over the months shows that vaccinated people are powerfully less likely to be diagnosed or hospitalized with coronavirus infections, or die from COVID-19.
Arwady gave the precise figure: 97% of hospitalizations and deaths since January have been non-fully-vaccinated Chicagoans. The median age of the 19 vaccinated Chicagoans who died of COVID-19 was 79, and they all had underlying conditions.
"There's no such thing as a 100% protective vaccine, but these vaccines continue to prove their safety and their efficacy in the real world," Arwady said.
Arwady's remarks came amidst jolting recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people in places where COVID-19 cases are surging should wear masks indoors to stop the spread.
As The Associated Press reports, the coronavirus vaccines significantly protect against serious illness and death and are effective against the delta variant, but breakthrough cases, in which vaccinated individuals are becoming infected with generally mild or asymptomatic coronavirus cases, are happening.
Masking does prevent immunocompromised and unvaccinated people — including children 11 and younger, who are too young to get the shots — from contracting the virus. The vaccine protects the individual; masks protect others.
"I want to be clear: if there are recommendations around masking, it is not because the vaccines are not working," Arwady said. "It just has to do with where there are a lot of people not vaccinated, there's more opportunity for that to spread. And we see that pretty clearly in our local data here."
She encouraged anyone who is concerned to wear a mask. "It only helps," she said. "I wear it. I'm used to wearing it. I've been wearing it for a year and a half. I tend to keep it on just because I know that if it helps to keep somebody else to feel more comfortable, I'm willing to do it at this point. But it's not a recommendation that we're making at the population level, and we may do it if we see our risk level here in Chicago really go up significantly."
Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Public Health has announced it will adopt the CDC guidance.
“While data continues to show the effectiveness of the three COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized in the U.S., including against the Delta variant, we are still seeing the virus rapidly spread among the unvaccinated,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a news release.
“Cases and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 both continue to increase, overwhelmingly among the unvaccinated, but the risk is greater for everyone if we do not stop the ongoing spread of the virus and the delta variant. We know masking can help prevent transmission of COVID-19 and its variants. Until more people are vaccinated, we join CDC in recommending everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask indoors in areas of substantial and high transmissions, and in K-12 schools.”
At the press conference, Arwady said the city is concerned as cases increase nationwide. As summertime continues, gathering outside remains the safest place to do so. Where people are uncomfortable, they can wear masks. But she said the city does not yet recommend everyone wearing them, because the city is at lower risk and the vaccines are highly effective. But unvaccinated people need to wear them inside.
California, New York City and medical workers with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are now mandated to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Arwady said her biggest priority is seeing what health care settings in the city are doing; more and more are putting in mandates for their workers, she expects more will, and she wants to support them — including in CDPH clinics.
Chicago does not have a mandate for its municipal workers to get vaccinated; Arwady has said before that opposition from public sector unions has precluded mandates that would cover them.
"At the larger municipal level, it's been good to see (mandates) be more in the conversation," Arwady said, "and we're going to continue monitoring and talking about it." Asked if those talks include unions, she said, "There're a lot of conversations going on broadly. Obviously there's a lot of players in this, and we want to make sure that all the stakeholders have a chance to weigh in and think about this before we ever do such a thing."
Regarding outreach, as mass vaccination sites have closed, Arwady said resources have been moved to the Protect Chicago at Home Program. The city's call center is no longer just taking calls from people who are seeking information about the coronavirus and vaccines; Arwady said they are calling high-risk people on Medicaid to see if they can schedule them vaccine appointments and identify people who have not yet been vaccinated.
While case numbers continue their increase on the mid-South Side, no one died from COVID-19 over the last week with data present.
- In 60653, covering North Kenwood and Oakland, 23 people tested positive for COVID-19 between July 18-24 out of 585 tests, up from 21 the week before, and no one died, down from two the week before. The number of tests performed rose 2%, and 38.2% of residents are fully vaccinated, up 0.2% from the week before.
- In 60615, covering northern Hyde Park, southern Kenwood and northern Washington Park, 23 people tested positive out of 746 tests, up from eight the week before, and no one died, the same as the week before. The number of tests performed rose 10%, and 54.8% of residents are fully vaccinated, up 0.2% from the week before.
- In 60637, covering southern Hyde Park, southern Washington Park and Woodlawn, 38 people tested positive out of 864 tests, up from 17 the week before, and no one died, the same as the week before. The number of tests performed rose 10%, and 38.5% of residents are fully vaccinated, up 0.2% from the week before.
- In 60649, South Shore, 24 people tested positive, up from 13 the week before, out of 921 tests performed, and no one died, down from one the week before. The number of tests performed dropped 4%, and 33.1% of residents are fully vaccinated, up 0.2% from the week before.
Citywide, 52% of Chicagoans are fully vaccinated. The numbers are accurate as of July 28 and are listed at chi.gov/coviddash.
The city's website for vaccine information is chicago.gov/covidvax. The city's online platform for vaccine scheduling is zocdoc.com/vaccine. City operators are available at 312-746-4835 to handle any questions regarding the vaccine.
Capacity of the Protect Chicago at Home program has been doubled; Arwady said the city is seeing good uptake among older and adolescent Chicagoans as well as their families. Up to 10 people at once can be vaccinated at their homes by appointment; hours are weekdays, 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Effective Aug. 2, anyone who gets vaccinated (both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available) will receive $25 Visa gift cards, which can be used anywhere Visa is accepted. More information is at 312-746-4835 or chicago.gov/athome.
"This expansion of Protect Chicago Plus really is coming from the fact that we've seen that often be really one of the absolute most successful things that we've been doing. We're booked out for two weeks now: all of the appointments are full," Arwady said on July 27. "We're especially hitting demographics that we're interested in hitting.
"We are really doubling down on that At Home, because a lot of folks are still going to pharmacies and their doctors, which is great. That's what we want them to do. But for folks for whom that is a barrier, we've found this to be very effective."
Howard Brown Health is offering the COVID-19 vaccine to everyone aged 16 and older, with sign-up at 872-269-3600. Katsaros Pharmacy, 1521 E. 53rd St., is offering appointments online at katsarospharmacy.com for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Friend Health is scheduling vaccine appointments at all three of its South Side locations at friendhealth.as.me for the Moderna vaccine.
UChicago Medicine is also now vaccinating everyone, regardless of patient status. The scheduling number is 1-888-824-0200.
The Cook County government is offering sign-up for vaccines at vaccine.cookcountyil.gov.