At a May 25 press conference, Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady characterized information about the city's COVID-19 outbreak and vaccine progress as "very good."
On that date, the city's five metrics for risk were in the moderate or low level. Cases are continuing to decline citywide, nearly to the level seen in February and almost to where they were last summer. Arwady said they could reach levels seen a year ago if more Chicagoans get vaccinated. Coronavirus case rates are still highest among Black Chicagoans, but they are decreasing.
"We've had more White and Asian Chicagoans at this point get vaccinated, and we're seeing lower case rates," Arwady said. "We've seen in the middle Latinx Chicagoans getting vaccinated, and we're seeing middle case rates."
Over the last month, 4,500 Black Chicagoans have been diagnosed with COVID-19; fewer and fewer have been diagnosed each week; neighborhoods with high case rates are those that are disproportionately African American, where lowest numbers of people have been vaccinated.
"It is those areas with the lowest vaccination rates that we're putting extra efforts in as we're really working to make sure that we're making vaccine as accessible and convenient as we can for everybody in Chicago, but especially in the lesser-vaccinated ZIP codes," Arwady said.
Since Jan. 17, when the first people in Chicago became fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 98% of the 4,830 hospitalized Chicagoans with the coronavirus were not fully vaccinated. Out of the 618 Chicagoans who died of COVID-19 since Jan. 17, 98% were not fully vaccinated.
Citywide, Arwady would like 70% of Chicago adults to get a first dose of vaccine by July 4, which is President Joe Biden's goal. Currently, just over half of Chicagoans have.
The Chicago COVID-19 Community Risk Matrix sets "low risk: controlled transmission" metrics to fewer than 20 COVID-19 cases diagnosed a day. "Lower" risk would be fewer than 200. As of May 28, there were 231, in the "moderate risk" range and down from 284 the week before. The matrix sets controlled transmission to a test positivity rate below 2%. As of May 28, it was 2.9% (lower risk), down from 3.1 the week before.
The matrix sets controlled transmissions to fewer than 100 non-intensive care unit hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients and fewer than 20 in the ICU occupied by those infected with the coronavirus. On May 25, those numbers were 290 and 107, respectively — both declining but still in the moderate range; the lower risk range would be fewer than 250 and 100, respectively.
Chicago is due to fully reopen sometime in June, and it is apparently unlikely that the city will meet most of its controlled transmission thresholds.
"This is really getting at the fact that we are unlikely to eliminate COVID, and so there's been some work around the country to think about what does it mean to be 'fully controlled' from a COVID perspective," Arwady said. "(The matrix) was our attempt to really put some numbers on that here in Chicago."
Ideally, she said, Chicago would be in the low risk: controlled transmission range, but the city does not need to be in that range to be fully open. She said she would be happy for every metric to be in the lower risk range, which she described as the goal this summer, but she emphasized that that would not mean controlled or low risk.
Arwady is hopeful that controlled transmission will happen at some point, but she does not know when. "Certainly if we get more people vaccinated and there's less and less opportunity for this to spread, our goal is to get there," she said. "I don't know if or when we will, but we felt like it was important to set that sort of ultimate goal."
Asked what effect seasonality, vaccinations and natural immunity will have on the mid-South Side and other higher-positivity areas, considering the coming of summer and rampant earlier COVID-19 outbreaks, Arwady stressed the importance of looking at positivity alongside cases. She said the Department of Public Health has been directing additional mobile testing resources to the South Side as cases have been disproportionately high there.
"I remain very optimistic that we will see these numbers continue to decline," she said. "They are decreasing across all race/ethnicity groups, although as you know the highest positivity, the highest cases, the highest hospitalizations and the highest deaths do remain in heavily Black neighborhoods, and that's where the lowest hospitalization rates are."
Vaccination rates, by first dose or by completed series, are still up to 20 points lower from some North Side ZIP codes and predominantly Black ones on the South Side. Arwady restated that CDPH's goal is 70% of adults in Chicago having a first dose by Independence Day but recognized that some ZIP codes are far from it.
"I am more interested in seeing improvement in our highly under-vaccinated areas. That's really our top goal with this equity lens," she promised.
In those areas, said Arwady, she hears people talking most about convenience or uncertainty where to get the shots, not apprehension. Sixty percent of Chicago's vaccines in the third week of May went to Black and Latino residents, and over that time more Latinos than White Chicagoans were vaccinated.
"It does get slower when we get to this point, but that's to be expected," she said. "We don't think it's good enough to just get the city overall there. We want to see Englewood come up out of there."
As of May 16-22, the COVID-19 positivity in all four mid-South Side lakefront ZIP codes is below 5%.
- In 60653, covering North Kenwood and Oakland, there were 28 confirmed cases of COVID-19, compared to 32 the week before, and no deaths, down from one the week before. There was a 2.9% positivity rate out of 1,124 tests performed. The number of tests performed rose 9%. Out of the entire population, 39.8% has received a first dose of vaccine, and 29.5% is fully vaccinated.
- In 60615, covering northern Hyde Park, southern Kenwood and northern Washington Park, there were 36 confirmed cases, up from 30 the week before, and one death, up from none the week before. There was a 3% positivity rate out of 1,384 tests. The number of tests performed dropped 24%. Out of the entire population, 54.5% have received a first dose of vaccine, and 45.4% are fully vaccinated.
- In 60637, covering southern Hyde Park, southern Washington Park and Woodlawn, there were 60 confirmed cases, down from 46 the week before, and no deaths, down from one the week before. There was a 2.4% positivity rate out of 2,917 tests. The number of tests performed dropped 21%. Out of the entire population, 38.2% have received a first dose of vaccine, and 31% are fully vaccinated.
- In 60649, South Shore, there were 47 confirmed cases, down from 57 the week before, and one death, down from two the week before. There was a 3.9% positivity rate out of 1,461 tests. The number of tests performed dropped 5%. Out of the entire population, 33.3% have received a first dose of vaccine, and 25.1% are fully vaccinated.
The city’s figures are accurate as of Friday, recorded at chi.gov/coviddash, and change as additional past data comes in.
From May 15-21, the University of Chicago conducted 1,764 tests but found no positives. Since Sept. 18, the university has reported 1,142 total cases to the CDPH.
No appointments are necessary at any city vaccination site. Dr. Arwady encouraged anyone to call 312-746-4835, where city operators are standing by to help people "handle whatever your problem is related to vaccine."
The new Protect Chicago at Home program, for Chicagoans aged 65 or older and Chicagoans with disabilities or medical conditions that make it hard for them to travel, is available, with appointments also for booking at 312-746-4835.
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.