Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, Chicago health chief Dr. Allison Arwady both test positive for COVID-19
The two join the lengthy list of Illinois officials and politicians who have come down with the virus since March 2020. The 88-year-old White reported mild symptoms, and Arwady said she had “some cold-like symptoms and fever but am otherwise well.” Both are fully vaccinated and boosted and working from home, according to statements,
One of the longest serving statewide officials in Illinois and the woman who has led Chicago through the pandemic have both tested positive for COVID-19.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and Chicago Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady both announced on Thursday that they had contracted the virus.
“Last night, for the first time in the pandemic, I tested positive for COVID-19. I am experiencing some cold-like symptoms and fever but am otherwise well, which I credit to the fact that I’m fully vaccinated and boosted. I will continue to work from home while following the CDC guidelines for isolation,” Arwady said in a statement.
“I want to remind all Chicagoans to get up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccines, which have proven to be incredibly effective at protecting against severe outcomes from the virus. We have made great progress against COVID-19, and I thank everyone who has made the decision to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their communities. But the virus is still out there and we have more work to do to put this pandemic behind us.”
Arwady reported the positive test one minute after continuing her ongoing Twitter campaign to promote vaccination.
“Vaccines continue to offer excellent protection from severe outcomes related to COVID-19. I encourage you to make sure you’re up-to-date on yours,” the commissioner wrote in the earlier tweet.
“Need help finding your COVID-19 vaccine? Visit Chicago.gov/COVIDvax or stop by one of CDPH’s clinics this weekend at Daley and Wright Colleges,” she tweeted.
For two years, Arwady has been a calm and reassuring presence in leading Chicago through the darkest days of a pandemic that has seen Black and Hispanic residents bear the brunt of the disease.
She joined Mayor Lori Lightfoot in sounding the alarm about the racial gap and in coordinating so-called rapid response teams to bridge the divide.
Arwady also held daily Facebook Live sessions to take questions in the early months of the crisis, a forum she’s continued on a weekly basis as the pandemic drags on.
Now, she joins the lengthy list of Illinois officials and politicians who have come down with the virus since March 2020.
Also joining that list Thursday was White, who is stepping down next year after more than two decades in office. The 88-year-old — fully vaccinated and twice boosted — was working from home with mild symptoms, according to a statement from his office.
White tested positive Wednesday, a week after appearing onstage with Gov. J.B. Pritzker, U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin and other top Democrats at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield.
It wasn’t clear when the secretary of state became infected, but Pritzker wouldn’t be considered a close contact by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards of being within six feet of a person with COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes within a 24-hour period, according to the governor’s office.
Either way, Pritzker “tests regularly and will continue to do so,” a spokesperson said.
“Sending my best wishes for a full and speedy recovery to Jesse White, our beloved Secretary of State and my dear friend,” tweeted Pritzker, who recovered from his own bout with COVID last month.
More than 3.6 million COVID-19 cases have been confirmed by lab tests in Illinois over the past two and a half years, but the actual case count is certainly at least several times higher due to the advent of at-home testing.
The virus has claimed more than 34,000 Illinois lives, including 7,821 in Chicago.
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have risen this summer thanks to the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants — the most infectious iterations of the virus yet — but numbers have started to level off over the past two weeks.
More than 3,600 residents have tested positive statewide each day over the past week, compared to more than 30,000 per day at the height of the Omicron variant resurgence in January. That’s also when viral hospitalizations plateaued at more than 7,300 per night, a figure that is now hovering around 1,400.
Transmission is still considered high by CDC guidelines in 42 of Illinois’ 102 counties, including Lake, Kane and Kendall. It’s considered medium in Cook County and the rest of the suburbs, meaning masks are urged for older people and the immunocompromised when gathering indoors.
Prior to joining the health department — initially as chief medical officer — Arwady worked for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an epidemic intelligence officer. In that role, she guided “outbreak response” and worked around the world on Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, according to her official bio.
The City Council initially delayed confirmation of Arwady’s appointment because she did not support re-opening mental health clinics famously closed by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
A few weeks ago, Lightfoot introduced Arwady before the City Club of Chicago and got choked up in talking about how much their pandemic partnership has meant to the mayor and how she could never have made it through the ordeal without her trusted health commissioner at her side.
“Thank you for all of the work you continue to do to keep us informed and safe during the pandemic. I wish you a speedy and full recovery, @DrArwady,” Lightfoot tweeted Thursday.
About 69% of Illinoisans have completed at least their initial vaccine series, and 54% have gotten a booster. Vaccines are urged for all residents 6 months or older.