Chicago Expected to Reach “Medium” COVID-19 Risk Soon;  Top doctor in town says mask rules could return if 'high' level is reached - Chicago Tribune

Chicago Expected to Reach “Medium” COVID-19 Risk Soon; Top doctor in town says mask rules could return if ‘high’ level is reached – Chicago Tribune

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Tuesday she expects the city’s risk of COVID-19 could rise from “low” to “medium” levels as soon as Friday, following the increase risk levels in suburban Cook County last week.

But the heightened level of risk isn’t enough to trigger new citywide mask mandates, she said. Last month, she suggested a mid-level designation could lead to a reinstated mask mandate in Chicago public schools, but on Tuesday said masks would be “strongly recommended” in schools, as well as in the city.

“If we go medium, it’s not like the sky is falling on us,” Arwady said during his weekly Facebook Live Q&A event. “There won’t be any major changes coming, we just want to curb some of those transmissions. If and when we move to medium risk in Chicago, you’ll see stronger recommendations about wearing masks indoors. You do not need to avoid gatherings, but we will ask you to put on a mask.

According to the latest national guidelines, DuPage County moved to medium risk two weeks ago and last week Lake County moved to medium risk.

The city’s COVID-19 dashboard reveals that Chicagoans hospitalized with COVID-19 haven’t been this low since July 2021. Arwady said variant surveillance has intensified, but omicron is still the lowest variant. more prevalent in the Midwest and the United States. No new variants have emerged, she added.

“We would arrive at a medium community level of COVID-19 either with a significant increase in cases or with a noted impact on our health system and to reach a “high” level, you must both see a lot of cases and a significant impact on the healthcare system,” Arwady said.

Arwady said it is only at high risk that a requirement “within a legal mandate” will be put in place.

“When we get into the medium for me it’s a bit like a yellow traffic light – it indicates cases are increasing, nothing hugely alarming, but there’s more risk,” she said . “I want people to understand that when that risk increases, you want to be more careful.”

She added: “We only plan to put mask requirements in place at a high level of risk. I always put a warning on that. I say, if we were to bring forth a new variant of concern; if we were to see a major change in the dynamics of viral transmission, we may need to be more conservative. But in the absence of that, assuming COVID continues to behave the way it behaves, we would not mandate masking or vaccines for high-risk settings unless we were at a high level by CDC.

The CPS reiterated on Tuesday that it strongly encourages everyone to mask up in its schools and will continue to follow CDC guidelines on masks. In its ongoing dispute with the Chicago Teachers Union over masking, the CPS noted that the CDC now recommends universal indoor masking in schools with high levels of community transmission.

Chicago’s COVID-19 rate remains just under 200 weekly new cases per 100,000 population, which is the general benchmark for being considered “medium” risk according to the CDC metric, although hospitalizations may also be a factor.

For Illinois, the statewide seven-day case rate as of Tuesday is 212, down from 193 on Friday.

Dan Petrella of the Chicago Tribune contributed.

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