Younger adults drive uptick in COVID-19


Alice Yin, Chicago Tribune
CHICAGO — Chicago public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady warned the city, particularly its younger adults, on Tuesday that coronavirus metrics were once again creeping into a danger zone that resembled a previous second surge during last October.
a group of people standing in a room: Austin Banton, 77, rolls his sleeve up for his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Mahalia Jackson Apartments in Chicago on March 11, 2021.© Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS Austin Banton, 77, rolls his sleeve up for his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Mahalia Jackson Apartments in Chicago on March 11, 2021.She echoed Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Monday remarks that cautioned the city will lose its recent gains under its reopening plan if younger adults do not “remain diligent” in masking and social distancing.

“COVID-19 is still here, folks,” Lightfoot said during a Monday news conference. “It is still real. It is still deadly, and unfortunately it’s still sending people to hospital, every single day. … We will step back and have to close back down if we are not diligent.”

Illinois public health officials on Monday reported 1,832 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 13 additional deaths. That brings the state’s totals since the pandemic began to 1,224,915 cases and 21,116 deaths.

The state reported 70,252 doses administered on Monday, and the seven-day rolling average of doses administered daily is 91,000 doses.

Though the seven-day rolling average of positive cases in Chicago sits at a low-risk 3.2%, Arwady during a Tuesday question-and-answer session said it is “heading the wrong way” and is up from the previous week’s 2.9%. And the daily average cases rose by 23% from last week, according to the city’s dashboard, showing a rise from 285 to 350 cases that can’t be attributed to more testing because daily tests only rose 6%. The city’s caseload is at a “high-risk” category when it hits 300.

Though intensive care unit visits remain at their lowest since the pandemic started, Arwady said those numbers tend to lag case spikes and that emergency department visits from COVID-19 are up 45% in the past two weeks.

Also, because the city has seen a 10% or higher rise in COVID-19 metrics for at least five consecutive days, it is already at a “high-risk” stage. If things get worse, future reopening plans could be jeopardized, or previous restrictions could return.

The increasing numbers mimic the start of the city’s second COVID-19 surge in October that later shut down indoor dining for months, Arwady said. As that wave died down, the city was able to reopen indoor dining in January and continue expanding its capacity, most recently three weeks ago.

“I’m not concerned about the long term as long as we continue to see good vaccine rollout and uptake, but I am very concerned about the short term here,” Arwady said.

“There are people in the younger age groups, I think, who perhaps are being less cautious and whether that’s because they’re feeling confident that the older people they interact with are already hopefully fully vaccinated, or whether there’s just a sense that COVID is over,” Arwady said.

More than half of Chicagoans 65 or older have gotten their first dose, but only about 11.6% of the city’s population is fully vaccinated, according to Arwady and Illinois Department of Public Health data. Still, she said this summer remains promising for further reopening because vaccination rates should be in much better shape by then.

It’s the next four to eight weeks that pose the greatest challenge, Arwady said.

“This is really concerning, and our goal is to keep being able to turn that dial on reopening, but where our cases move into that high-risk territory, and we’re seeing the other indicators really move the other way, I do have some concerns,” Arwady said.

The Chicago Department of Public Health also is investigating several outbreaks, such as high school and university sports events that range from four to 17 cases per cluster. There are also social events by younger adults including college students that CDPH is investigating.

When asked Tuesday whether recent decisions to reopen the city sparked COVID-19 spread, Arwady said the driving factor was mainly “socializing” and less so indoor dining. She also said there are no concerns with the return of in-person learning at Chicago Public Schools or “anywhere in the U.S.”

“Clearly this is multifactorial, where we are seeing major increases like this,” Arwady said. “Where we’ve seen significant outbreaks, it’s been around socializing, and some of that socializing may be taking place at bars or restaurants, but where we’re seeing the connections, it tends to be more among university groups, people who are knowing each other and then are gathering in given spaces.”


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