Pandemic progress report: Chicago in ‘much better place’ now than ‘any other point’ — but don’t ditch those masks just yet
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady advised Chicagoans to enjoy the sense of normalcy — but to be ready for mitigations to return in case of another surge. Arwady added any such move would just be “temporary,” and “hopefully, it’s not something we’ll need again.”
Two years after COVID-19 claimed its first Chicago life, the city is in “a much better place right now than we have been at any other point in the pandemic,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday.
While masks have come off and vaccine mandates have been lifted, city officials advised residents to enjoy the sense of normalcy that has come along with a lull in cases — but to be ready for mitigations to return in case of another surge.
“Whatever comes next, I hope you barely hear from me again on this topic,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said during a City Hall news conference reflecting on the crisis that has killed 7,586 Chicagoans.
“But know that if you do, or if we are having to put masks back on, or we’re having to put vaccine requirements back in — that is just temporary,” Arwady said. “That is just to get us through a surge. And hopefully, it’s not something we’ll need again.”
The two stood by the decision for a mostly maskless spring at what Arwady characterized as “a point where the risk is very low overall.”
Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are at the lowest levels seen in eight months in Chicago and across the rest of the state.
Roughly 1,250 residents statewide have tested positive each day over the past week, a rate that has decreased by 96% since the height of the Omicron variant surge in early January.
That’s according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, which reported 583 coronavirus patients were hospitalized across the state as of Monday night, the first time admissions have fallen below 600 since July 20, 2021.
New COVID-19 cases by day
Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times
Source: Illinois Department of Public Health
Graph not displaying properly? Click here.
The virus is still claiming about 23 Illinois lives per day, but that rate has fallen precipitously as well — and the state has recorded four days this month without a confirmed COVID death. Before March 6, that had happened only once throughout the pandemic, back on July 5, 2021.
All other 724 days of the pandemic dating back to March 16, 2020 — the day Auburn Gresham resident Patricia Frieson became the first Illinoisan to lose a battle with the respiratory disease — have seen the state suffer at least one viral death.
But this month’s days with no fatalities come with a caveat. They all fell early in the week, a period when state public health officials now warn the counts could be low because they have stopped “reviewing and processing COVID-19 death records over the weekend,’” adding those “deaths will be captured in subsequent days.”
Illinois’ death toll stands at 33,139 — roughly 46 fatalities per day of the pandemic. Chicago accounts for almost a quarter of that toll.
“It’s hard not to be caught up in the breathtaking nature of what we’ve been through, having our lives everyday be completely upended by something that we knew little about in the early days, except that it was very contagious, and very deadly,” Lightfoot said.
Arwady said she expects “some increase” in cases as more masks come off. “But when people are out and about, generally we do not need to have those population-level requirements in place at this time,” she said.
“Can I promise COVID is over? No. But my team is continuing to monitor it every day,” Arwady said.
That’s especially true as the virus surges yet again overseas in Germany and China. Arwady said the city will follow the latest masking guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That means masks would be recommended if the city hits a “medium” level of community transmission based on hospitalization and case metrics. A mask mandate could be implemented if transmission is considered “high.”
Statewide, transmission is currently low in all but a dozen downstate counties.
The best way to prevent another surge, Arwady said, is to get more residents vaccinated. About 74% of eligible Chicagoans have completed their initial vaccine series.
For help finding a shot, visit chicago.gov/covidvax or call (312) 746-4835.