Hospitalizations and Case Rates Increase, Prompting Renewed Precautions
According to reports from the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), key COVID-19 metrics in the city have risen to “medium” risk levels for the first time since the summer. The city uses a color-coded system to track the risk, with blue being the lowest risk and red being the highest. The increase into the yellow “medium” risk level comes as daily hospital admissions and weekly case rates for COVID-19 have climbed higher in recent weeks.
While the CDPH tried to reassure residents that this uptick does not warrant significant concern at the moment, they did state that the shift into medium risk warrants “greater precautions” by individuals and businesses. The department is advising people to masks while indoors, ensure ventilation systems are working properly, get tested if exhibiting symptoms, and get up to date on COVID-19 vaccines and bivalent boosters.
By the Numbers: Hospitalizations and Case Rates
According to data tracked by the city, Chicago is currently averaging 169 daily hospital admissions for COVID-19 based on non-ICU beds occupied by confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients. This metric is one of the primary indicators used to set the city’s risk level tiers.
|Daily Hospital Admissions
At 169 admissions, Chicago has crossed the threshold from “low” into “medium” risk for the first time since July 2022, when a rise in cases prompted a short-lived elevation into the yellow tier at that time.
In addition to hospitalization rates, the city also tracks weekly COVID-19 case rates per 100,000 residents. This metric now stands at 233 cases per 100,000 for the 7-day period ending January 5. This is firmly within medium risk levels, which are defined as 200-399 cases per 100,000 people.
Officials Urge Precautions, But Say Risk is Still Low
Despite crossing into the next risk level tier, public health officials tried to calm resident’s possible concerns by reinforcing that overall risk remains relatively low at this time.
“This latest rise in cases and hospitalizations is not unexpected with the winter season and new variants,” said CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady. “While the risk has increased from low to medium, COVID-19 risk in Chicago remains overall low.”
Arwady stressed that there are currently no plans to reinstate previous COVID-19 restrictions like indoor masking mandates. However, she noted that the shift to medium warrants additional voluntary precautions by residents. Recommendations include wearing masks while indoors, staying home when sick, ensuring HVAC systems provide proper ventilation, testing if exhibiting symptoms, and staying up to date with the new bivalent booster shots.
The commissioner also noted that supply of antiviral COVID treatments remains high for those at greater risk of severe disease. She encouraged people to speak with their doctors about their eligibility.
Omicron BF.7 Among Variants Behind Increase
According to infectious disease experts, the recent increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations and case rates are being partially driven by continued evolution of the Omicron variant. One newer Omicron offshoot called BF.7 now accounts for over half of current cases in the upper Midwest.
Early indications are that BF.7 is highly transmissible, demonstrating ability to evade some immunity provided by vaccination or previous infection. Fortunately, most experts believe it does not cause more severe illness compared to prior Omicron subvariants like BA.5. The bivalent COVID boosters released in the fall specifically include ingredients to provide better protection against BF.7 and other newer Omicron variants.
In her statements this week, Commissioner Arwady said the updated boosters likely explain why hospitalizations and deaths have not risen to the level of case rate increases. However, she noted that only 15% of eligible Chicago residents have gotten the new bivalent shot so far. Expanding booster usage remains a priority.
What Could Happen Next?
While health officials currently believe Chicago’s move into the “medium” risk tier does not require renewed mandates, they say they will be closely monitoring the trends in the weeks ahead. If metrics continue to escalate substantially, consideration of updated guidance is possible.
The most likely next step would be a new recommendation to wear masks in public indoor spaces, including crowded venues like sporting events or concerts. However, Dr. Arwady has stated repeatedly in recent months that large-scale shutdowns and capacity limits for businesses are not expected to return at this time.
One key indicator experts are tracking closely is COVID-19 hospital strain and capacity. If admissions accelerate rapidly, causing concern that healthcare systems could be overwhelmed, it would likely prompt officials to take additional actions aimed at slowing viral spread.
For now, officials remain cautiously optimistic that existing immunity levels and antiviral treatments will provide enough protection – as long as residents take seriously the calls for added precautions amidst rising COVID prevalence.
Looking Ahead to 2023
While the latest data shows Chicago COVID metrics ending 2022 with concerning upward trends, officials and public health experts will be closely analyzing additional data in the weeks ahead before determining if more interventions are necessary.
Key indicators like hospital capacity metrics, deaths, and nursing home outbreak trends will help inform next steps. Experts also hope testing increases after the holidays, providing additional surveillance on how rapidly BF.7 and other variants may be spreading.
Commissioner Arwady said Chicagoans should expect updated guidance and direction around the end of January, as more definitive post-holiday data becomes available. For now, she suggests residents be “COVID cautious” by following common sense precautions, but not to panic or overreact until additional assessment over an extended period can be analyzed.
“I don’t want individuals to hear this and think that COVID is surging or that we are heading towards a lockdown, because that is not the situation at all,” Arwady commented. “We simply want Chicagoans to be aware of the trends and understand that some minor increases in sensible precautions makes sense at this stage.”
With widespread vaccination, improved treatments, and continued viral evolution towards more mild disease, most experts remain confident that a return to closures and sweeping mandates remains very unlikely. However, Chicago’s shift from “low” to “medium” COVID risk level this week, driven primarily by moderate upticks in hospital admissions, serves as an important reminder that the pandemic remains an ongoing challenge requiring continued vigilance.
By reinforcing reasonable precautions like indoor masking, testing, improving ventilation, and getting up to date on the latest boosters, Chicagoans have the power to blunt further viral acceleration as the city enters 2023. While the future trajectory of the pandemic remains filled with uncertainties, one certainty persists – the collective actions of residents can and will shape just how disruptive this virus remains, or fades, as life otherwise continues marching towards a post-pandemic normal.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.