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As COVID cases rise, Chicago doctor hopes for a decline in January

An infectious disease expert says holiday gatherings may prolong the recent surge in cases as the state reports hospitalizations continue to rise.

A line of cars stretches almost a block at Prism Health Lab’s drive-thru COVID-19 testing and vaccination site in the West Rogers Park neighborhood, Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 28, 2021.
A line of cars stretches almost a block Tuesday at Prism Health Lab’s drive-thru COVID-19 testing and vaccination site in the West Rogers Park neighborhood.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

COVID-19 illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths are showing no signs of slowing in Illinois, and an infectious disease expert says a peak in cases may be weeks away.

“With Christmas and lots of family gatherings, that could delay the peak a little bit longer,” Dr. John Segreti, medical director of infection control and prevention at Rush University Medical Center, said in an interview. “I suspect we will see a peak maybe in two to three weeks, and hopefully, we’ll start to come down.”

The state reported almost 21,000 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, slightly lower than the numbers reported Friday and more than triple the daily count at the beginning of the month.

The state also reported 96 deaths, more than double the 45 reported on Dec. 1. The total confirmed death count for Illinois now stands at 27,684 among almost 2.1 million reported cases since the beginning of the pandemic, according to state data.

Though the death count for Tuesday was high, it might be skewed by the holiday weekend. Deaths might have occurred days before they were reported, Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said.

Hospitalizations are clearly climbing. As of Dec. 27, there were 5,200 hospitalized patients with COVID-19, more than double the number reported at the end of November, state figures show.

There were 465 patients admitted to Illinois hospitals on Christmas for COVID-19-like illnesses, the highest daily number this month.

“We are seeing the sickest of the sick — the people in the intensive care units and people dying — are almost all unvaccinated,” Segreti said. “There should be a very strong incentive to get vaccinated and get boosted.”

The state’s top health official, Dr. Ngozi Ekize, confirmed Monday that Illinois is seeing the highest surge in coronavirus cases seen throughout the entire pandemic.

Public health officials previously warned the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus would lead to many more infections this winter in the Midwest as more people are drawn indoors. Yet another version of the virus, the Omicron variant, has emerged quickly, and it is also highly transmissible.

That has government and private doctors concerned about New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Segreti advised people to take plenty of precautions, especially if they’re not vaccinated.

“If you’re not vaccinated and boosted, try to do as little as possible in crowded areas, especially indoors and poorly ventilated spaces,” Segreti said. “The more people there are, the greater likelihood that someone has COVID, and the best thing to do is avoid crowded indoor spaces, wear a mask and get tested before and after.”

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.