Illinois Coronavirus Updates: Chicago's Top Doctor Explains Delta and Delta Plus Variant

Chicago’s top doctor broke down the different types of coronavirus variants, explaining delta and delta plus, as well as detailing when the city and other jurisdictions would potentially need to make “major changes.”

© AP

A person holds a mask while walking outside in Philadelphia, Friday, May 21, 2021.

Meanwhile, Illinois health officials on Friday reported 16,742 new COVID-19 cases in the past week, along with 64 additional deaths and more than 176,000 new vaccine doses administered.

Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic across Illinois today:

Chicago’s Top Doctor Explains Variants, Delta and Delta Plus, When City May Need More Restrictions

Chicago’s top doctor on Thursday broke down the different types of coronavirus variants, explaining delta and delta plus, as well as detailing when the city and other jurisdictions would potentially need to make “major changes” in restrictions and other efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady addressed questions about the different variants in a Facebook live broadcast.

She highlighted the three different tiers into which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention categorizes coronavirus variants. They are, in ascending order of concern: variant of interest, variant of concern and variant of high consequence.

“We’ve never had a variant yet that has been considered a variant of high consequence. If we did, that would be a very big deal,” Arwady said. “It would mean that we would probably need to be doing another round of vaccinations or making major changes, but we’ve not seen anything that the [World Health Organization], the CDC, anybody, has labeled as variant of high consequence,”

“We do have some of these variants of concern,” she continued. “The one that has been getting the most attention right now, of course, is the delta variant.”

Arwady clarified that the so-called “delta plus” variant is a sub-type of the delta variant known formally as AY.1. The original delta variant is known as B.1.617.2, while three sub-types have been labeled AY.1, which some have informally called “delta plus,” as well as AY.2 and AY.3.

“There have been a handful of cases, but not even 1% of cases, either here in the Midwest area or in the U.S. have been identified as that AY.1,” Arwady said.

Arwady said that among the sub-types of the delta variant, the original delta variant B.1.617.2 “outcompetes” the others because it is more contagious.

Read more here.

Oak Park Public Health Department Issues Indoor Mask Mandate, Effective Immediately

Oak Park will require all individuals over the age of 2, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask in public indoor spaces starting Friday, the village announced. 

“The Village has experienced a 750% increase in COVID-19 cases in July 2021 as compared to June 2021. Therefore, I have determined that additional mitigation measures are necessary under Phase 5 to protect the public health pursuant to my authority,” said Oak Park Public Health Director, Dr. Theresa Chapple-McGruder.

The new requirement applies to all businesses, multi-family residential buildings, health care settings, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, shelters, congregate settings, government buildings and on all forms of public transportation, including in transportation stations and hubs, the village said. 

Masks were recommended outdoors if individuals are unable to maintain at least a six-foot distance from others not from the same household.  

Oak Park currently identifies as an area of substantial transmission of COVID-19. The village had 83 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in July, compared to 11 in June. 

According to Oak Park officials, about 58% of its residents have received at least one dose of a two-dose vaccine. 

Coronavirus in Illinois: 16,742 New COVID Cases, 64 Deaths, 176K Vaccinations in the Past Week

Illinois health officials on Friday reported 16,742 new COVID-19 cases in the past week, along with 64 additional deaths and more than 176,000 new vaccine doses administered.

COVID cases statewide have increased by more than 43% over the last week, with hospitalizations up 33%, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Intensive care unit admissions also increased by 47% and the number of COVID patients on ventilators nearly doubled in the past week, up by 95%.

In all, 1,436,353 cases of coronavirus have been reported in the state since the pandemic began. The additional deaths reported this week bring the state to 23,503 confirmed COVID fatalities.

The state has administered 365,210 tests since last Friday, officials said, bringing the total to more than 27 million tests conducted during the pandemic.

The state’s seven-day positivity rate on all tests rose to 5.2% from 4.7% last week which was up from 3.5% the week before, officials said. The rolling average seven-day positivity rate for cases as a percentage of total tests was up to 4.6% from 4% the week before, 3.3% two weeks prior and 1.9% three weeks ago.

IDPH noted, however, that the regional seven-day positivity rate ranges from 3.1% to 10.3%.

Over the past seven days, a total of 176,709 doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered to Illinois residents – up from around 154,000 the week prior and bringing the state’s average to 25,244 daily vaccination doses over the last week, per IDPH data.

More than 13 million vaccine doses have been administered in Illinois since vaccinations began in December. More than 59% of adult residents in the state are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with 75% receiving at least one dose.

As of midnight, 1,200 patients are currently hospitalized due to COVID in the state. Of those patients, 246 are in ICU beds, and 121 are on ventilators. All three metrics are a reported increase since last Friday.

How to Find Out if You’re in an Area Where the CDC Recommends Masks Indoors

Every county in the Chicago area is seeing “substantial” or “high” community transmission of COVID-19, placing the entire region in the category in which fully vaccinated people should resume wearing a mask indoors, federal health officials say.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance last week to recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks in indoor settings again in areas of the U.S. that are seeing “substantial” or “high” transmission of COVID-19.

The new guidance marked a reversal from earlier recommendations that said fully vaccinated people could remove masks in most settings.

So in which areas is the CDC advising people wear masks indoors? The agency points to its COVID-19 data tracker showing levels of community transmission, along with other data, for each county in the U.S.

Read more here.

COVID Booster Vaccine Shot Could Be Recommended for Certain Populations, Arwady Says

No COVID-19 vaccine booster shot has officially been recommended, but Chicago’s top doctor says it could be eventually for certain people.

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner for the Chicago Department of Public Health, said in a Facebook Live Thursday that should a booster COVID shot recommendation come, it will likely be for particular populations, such as those over age 65 and people with immune-compromising conditions.

“We may see a booster recommendation, but we’re more likely to see that I think for particular populations as we do for other diseases, even flu,” Arwady said.

If a recommendation is put into place in the future, however, Arwady said pharmaceutical companies are ready.

“So the pharmaceutical companies are doing all that work, they are very ready to go when if there is need for a booster, but we’ve not seen anything that says, adults, for example, that would be a requirement,” Arwady said.

She added that the U.S. will not be able to “booster” their way out of the COVID pandemic, so the focus should rather be on vaccine equity, especially as the delta variant surges.

Read more here.

Gov. Pritzker Announces Mask Mandate for All Illinois Schools This Fall

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday announced that all students and teachers in schools will be required to wear masks while indoors, as state officials take steps to try to slow the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19.

Pritzker says that the new requirement will take effect immediately, and will also apply to all students and coaches participating in indoor sports and other activities.

“As your governor, it’s my duty to say that we must all take immediate and urgent action to slow the spread of the delta variant,” he said. “People are dying who don’t have to die.”

Pritzker says that the state has a “limited amount of time” to slow the spread of the delta variant.

The mandate comes after the Illinois Department of Public Health last week said it would follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new recommendations for masking indoors at K-12 schools, recommending it be done universally among teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status. 

Chicago Public Schools – the state’s largest district – announced last month that all students and teachers will be required to wear face coverings and social distance while indoors this upcoming academic year.

Read more here.

‘It Can Happen:’ Pritzker Urges Young Adults to Take Delta Variant Seriously as Cases Rise

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a stark warning to young adults in the state Wednesday, saying that the delta variant of the coronavirus is impacting individuals 30 and younger with much greater regularity than previous strains of the virus.

According to Pritzker, approximately 12% of COVID hospitalizations nationwide are occurring among individuals 29 and younger, and the state is urging those residents to take virus mitigation efforts seriously.

“Unlike before, people 29 years and younger are accounting for 12% of hospitalizations across the nation. We are seeing young people with no underlying conditions now on ventilators,” he said. “Every time we think we know where this virus is headed, it shifts.”

During a press availability Wednesday, Pritzker continued to urge eligible residents to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations, with shots available through at-home programs and a wide variety of other methods.

Pritzker says that 96% of COVID hospitalizations in the state are occurring in unvaccinated individuals, and he says that it is imperative that young adults take the virus seriously.

“I want to say specifically to young adults: please don’t think that the worst case scenario can’t happen to you. It can happen. It is happening,” he said. “Get vaccinated. To parents of minors who are eligible to get the shot, please get your children vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Read more here.

Pritzker Mandates COVID Vaccines for State Employees at Congregant Living Facilities

With the delta variant driving COVID-19 case numbers higher and higher in Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced multiple “initial” actions to combat the variant, including a new mask mandate for students and teachers in schools and vaccine requirements for employees of state-run congregant care facilities, including veterans’ homes and correctional facilities.

The new requirements were laid out during a press conference Wednesday at the Thompson Center, with the governor saying that the state needs to take “immediate and urgent action” to slow the spread of the delta variant.

The governor announced that employees at state-run congregant care facilities, including correctional facilities, veterans’ homes, and psychiatric hospitals, will be required to receive COVID vaccinations, effective Oct. 4.

“By and large, residents of these state-run facilities have done what they can do to protect themselves by getting vaccinated,” he said. “And yet, many of the long-term care facilities’ employees have not been vaccinated.”

State agencies will be required to make the vaccine readily available to employees, and negotiations remain ongoing with unions about implementation of the new requirements.

The third and final pillar of the actions Pritzker announced Wednesday is a requirement that all visitors, staff and patients at long-term care facilities wear masks. That includes such facilities that are privately  operated.

“Given our current trajectory, we have a limited amount of time to stave off the highest peaks of this surge heading into the fall,” he said. “We now have an extremely effective tool to save lives, and to keep our hospital systems from being overwhelmed by COVID cases.”

Read more here.

Central Illinois Health Department Tells Lollapalooza Attendees to Get Tested for COVID

Officials with a health department in central Illinois asked that anyone who attended Lollapalooza over this past weekend get tested for COVID-19 in the next few days.

The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District posted its recommendation on Facebook, writing, “If you were at LOLLAPALOOZA please go get tested for COVID on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.”

“This will help us shut down any local outbreaks before they get started,” the post reads.

Chicago’s largest musical festival – canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic – was allowed to return to Chicago’s Grant Park from July 29 to Aug. 1 this year, at full capacity and with new health protocols.

But multiple infectious disease experts warned that Lollapalooza could lead to an increase in already rising metrics like COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

About 100,000 people attended the festival on each of the four days from Thursday to Sunday, organizers said Monday.

City officials billed it as the largest music festival happening in the world this year, with massive crowds and little to no social distancing or masking in the crowds at multiple performances.

Read more here.

Will Illinois, Chicago Start to Require Vaccine Passports For Residents? Officials Weigh In

With areas like New York City now requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for a number of indoor activities, could Chicago or Illinois start to require a similar “vaccine passport” for residents?

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has not announced any plans for a COVID vaccine requirement statewide, but Chicago’s top doctor said Tuesday the city could have a type of vaccine passport in the future — just not yet.

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said that while the city is “interested” in the idea, there are no current plans to make a move similar to New York City.

“I think at this point I’m certainly… we’re interested in this,” Arwady said. “We’ll be watching to see how this plays out, but we don’t have a current plan to do something like that at the city level.”

Arwady noted Chicago and Illinois are still working on technology to implement vaccine proof on such a grand scale, though she noted making such a requirement is “a really big decision.”

“I’ll tell you in New York City, there’s a couple things that are different. One is I think they have embraced this vaccine passport idea a little bit more than has been embraced here in the Midwest and across Illinois,” Arwady said. “We’ve been working with the Illinois Department of Public Health to make it easier for people to be able to access their own vaccination records, thinking about some behind-the-scenes work to be able to have a more standard way for people to be able to show proof of vaccination, for example, because I do think where you’re thinking about doing some of this potentially at a larger level, you want to make sure that it can be operationalized in a way that makes sense.”

Read more here.

Dr. Arwady Went Undercover at Lollapalooza. Here’s What She Says She Saw

Chicago’s top doctor said she went undercover at Lollapalooza last weekend to see how the festival was enforcing COVID-19 precautions and administering vaccines.

“I actually went through those gates multiple times not known,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. “Like I put a hat on. I put glasses on. I put a mask on.”

Arwady explained she disguised her appearance because she wanted to go through the line similar to any other concert-goer and experience how the staff checked vaccination proof.

Rather than bringing the official COVID vaccination card issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Arwady said she brought a print-out from I-CARE, which was an accepted document.

“I was really pleased,” Arwady said. “These pepole didn’t know who I was. I was in the middle of a big crowd of other kids coming in. They stopped, they looked.”

As she walked through the check-in at the gate, Arwady noted that security looked through her document and checked to make sure she had two COVID vaccine shots and from which dates.

“We saw a lot of people getting turned away if they didn’t come with anything,” Arwady said. “But also if the dates weren’t good.”

Vaccine ambassadors for Chicago were on site, Arwady added, who provided information and signed people up for at-home appointments. Those city workers tracked data, along with Lollapalooza, and found that 90% of attendees showed proof of vaccination.

“Most music festivals across the U.S., really big ones even, are not having a testing or vaccination requirement,” Arwady said. “I don’t think that is wise with the increase in the delta variant.”

Read more here.

Here’s When Chicago Could Enact a Mask Mandate, According to City’s Top Doctor

Chicago health officials provided recommendations last week that all people, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks while indoors, stopping short of a citywide mandate.

But when could there be a face covering requirement?

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said a mask mandate is “under discussion,” but will not happen where the city’s COVID-19 data is as of Tuesday.

“We wouldn’t even consider a mandate unless we moved into at least that ‘high risk’ territory,” Arwady said. “We have not made a formal decision.”

Read more here.

Chicago Adds 5 States, Puerto Rico to Travel Advisory as COVID Cases Continue to Rise

Chicago added five states and Puerto Rico to its travel advisory Tuesday, recommending that unvaccinated people entering the city from those areas test negative for COVID-19 or quarantine upon arrival.

Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, South Carolina, Utah and Puerto Rico were all added to the list, bringing the total number of states on the advisory to 19, along with two U.S. territories.

The list now includes: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wyoming, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. 

“As COVID cases rise throughout the country, the relationship between COVID and the unvaccinated remains clear,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a statement. “Overwhelmingly, the states with the highest COVID case rates also have some of the lowest vaccination rates. The most important thing you can do to help stop the spread of COVID is to get vaccinated.”

Read more here.

Can Your Employer Require a Coronavirus Vaccine?

As coronavirus cases are once again on the rise fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant, more Chicago companies are mandating vaccinations and masks.

Some employees and customers are pushing back against the rules, citing their freedom of choice, but Chicago attorney Tom Glasgow said the legal system is not on their side, at least not so far.

“You’re an employee at will,” said Glasgow, of Glasgow & Olsson. “They can mandate anything for you as a private employer.”

Read more here.

$100K Illinois Vaccine Lottery Winners Chosen From Schaumburg, Springfield and Macon County

Three winners were chosen Monday during the fourth $100,000 drawing of Illinois’ COVID vaccine lottery.

The winners, located in Schaumburg, Springfield and Macon County, will be notified by the Illinois Department of Public Health by phone or email starting Monday afternoon. Each will be awarded a $100,000 cash prize.

“Illinoisans from those cities and counties should keep their phones on and check their emails regularly to find out if they’ve won,” IDPH said in a statement.

Health officials will call from 312-814-3524 and/or email from DPH.communications@illinois.gov.

Read more here.

Cook County Updates Guidance to Recommend Masks Indoors Regardless of Vaccination Status

Cook County updated its guidance on masking and other COVID-19 precautions Friday, recommending everyone wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, as health officials say the region is seeing “substantial” community transmission.

The Cook County Department of Public Health issued new policies one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention placed the county into the “substantial” transmission category, triggering the CDC’s recommendation to resume indoor masking under its new guidance released Tuesday.

In alignment with the CDC, CCDPH said it “strongly recommends” the following: 

  • Individuals over 2 years of age should wear a mask in public indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status. 
  • Fully-vaccinated people who have been exposed to someone who has suspected or confirmed COVID should be tested 3-5 days following the exposure and wear a mask indoors as above · Fully-vaccinated people may wish to mask outdoor in crowded settings. CCDPH fully endorses this action. 
  • Guidance has not changed for unvaccinated individuals: masks should be worn indoors and in crowded outdoor settings, regardless of the community transmission level. 

Masks are still required for everyone older than 2 on public transportation or at any indoor transportation hub, as well as in health care and long-term care settings, CCDPH said.

Read more here.

Here’s How the Delta Variant Symptoms Differ From the Initial COVID Strain

About 83 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have been fueled by the delta variant, and as the surge continues, the number of associated cases is expected to rise even higher in the coming weeks, according to health officials.

Approximately one month ago, on June 19, the delta variant accounted for just over 30 percent of new cases. On July 3, it crossed the 50 percent threshold to become the dominant variant in the U.S. Public health experts nationwide have focused their efforts on encouraging vaccinations as most of those who’ve contracted the variant haven’t been vaccinated.

Studies have shown that the COVID-19 vaccines are effective against multiple variants, including the delta variant. However, when it comes to symptoms, there appear to be key differences.

Here’s what you need to know.

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