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Is the pandemic over?

Not so fast, city Health Dept. seems to say

From staff reports

While both public health and political commentators assessed the accuracy of President Joe Biden’s recent proclamation that the pandemic is over, the Chicago Department of Public Health appears to be saying, not so fast.

“The pandemic is over. We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over,” Biden said on 60 Minutes last Sunday.

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At a City of Chicago pandemic update earlier this month, CDPH Commissioner Alison Arwady, M.D. cautioned that COVID-19 could make a resurgence this winter. About half of the participants in the update, including Arwady and 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman (behind Arwady), wore facemasks when not speaking. –Screenshot from a City of Chicago video

But COVID-19 case rates continue to hold steady at pandemic levels in Chicago and Cook County; and the city remains at the Medium Level, according to the latest Community Level metrics released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Heading into fall and winter, CDPH asks all Chicagoans to get up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines before the weather gets cold—for those age 12 and up that means getting the updated COVID-19 vaccine, known as a bivalent booster, that became available this month. All Chicagoans age 6 months and older should also get a flu shot to stay healthy and avoid serious illness.

The bivalent booster is the first update to the original COVID vaccine, designed to better protect against the dominant Omicron subvariants BA.4/BA.5 that are currently circulating. The bivalent booster generates a stronger immune response against current variants as well as potential for broader protection against future variants. All residents 12 and older who have completed a primary vaccine series are eligible to get the new bivalent booster vaccine two months after their most recent vaccine or booster.

Chicago has seen a seven-day-rolling average of about 4,300 bivalent booster doses administered per day since Labor Day. In comparison, when the first monovalent boosters were recommended in October 2021 for people 65+, those with underlying medical conditions, and anyone who received a J&J vaccine, approximately 3,500 doses were being administered a day. Monovalent booster doses peaked in late December 2021 and early January 2022, when anyone 16 and older was eligible, at approximately 10,000 doses per day.

“We still have a long way to go to get enough Chicagoans protected with the updated COVID vaccine before the cold weather sets in or another variant emerges–but with thousands of vaccinations a day, we are off to a good start in helping residents receive this critical bivalent booster,” said CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D. “I am, though, very concerned about lower initial uptake among black and Latinx residents, given that COVID has caused the most severe illness in predominantly black and Latinx neighborhoods.”

As of Sept. 14, more than 32,000 doses of the updated booster have been administered to Chicagoans. Of those, 65% have gone to whites, 12% to blacks, 12% to Hispanics and 8% to Asians. In addition, 35% of doses have gone to people age 60 or older.

Of those eligible to receive the new booster vaccine, 35% are white, 27% are Hispanic, 23% are black and 8% are Asian. In addition, 23% of those eligible are age 60 or older.

“The updated vaccine is so important to protect yourself and those you love against severe illness and hospitalization ahead of the fall and winter,” said Dr. Arwady. “The vaccine is free and in hundreds of Chicago locations—you can head to your pharmacy or doctor, make an appointment to be vaccinated at home, or come to one of our CDPH clinics this weekend. But, please, make plans to get vaccinated as soon as you can.”

CDPH has scheduled dozens of mobile vaccination events in the coming weeks to administer bivalent booster vaccines and flu vaccines for high-risk populations such as senior centers, CHA facilities and other congregate living settings, as well as vaccination events all over the city in partnership with aldermen and community organizations.

Details about the new bivalent booster vaccine can be found at Chicago.gov/Boost. Residents can find out where to get the updated vaccine at vaccines.gov or by calling the City at (312) 746-4835.

COVID-19 numbers

The number of new laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population in the past seven days across Cook County was 137 (129 last week, but still lower than 158 three weeks ago), and the number of new weekly hospital admissions per 100,000 population was 10.7 (10.2 last week, 11.3 two weeks ago).

The percentage of staffed inpatient beds in Cook County in use by patients with confirmed COVID-19 was 4.3% (4.2% last week, 4.5% two weeks ago).

Laboratory-diagnosed COVID-19 case rates in Chicago continue to decline, while hospital admissions and percentage of staffed beds occupied by COVID-19 patients remain steady. The City’s COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 population is 108 (135 last week), and the percentage of hospital beds occupied by patients with COVID-19 is 4.3% (4.1% last week, 4.2% two weeks ago).

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