'We must do something about this right now': Mayor Lightfoot, CDPH say Chicago is in 'second surge' of COVID-19

"We have to take every precaution in our toolkit. We have the power to bend this curve back down in the right direction, but we, and you, and each of us, have to be diligent."
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot Photo credit City of Chicago

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Mayor Lightfoot and Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady sounded the alarm Monday on the worrying trends across COVID-19 health metrics, including a significant rise in cases, positivity rate and hospitalizations.

Over the past two weeks, daily cases have risen by more than 50 percent, to over 500 per day. This is the most cases per day seen in Chicago since late May, the tail-end of the pandemic’s first wave, and is coinciding with a worrying increase in hospitalizations, which are also up 25 percent for non-ICU COVID patients and suspected cases since Sept. 22.

"Make no mistake: We are in the second surge," Lightfoot said. "And here's why we say this...We had almost 800 positive tests reported in a single day last week, marking the largest one-day jump since May 21. These numbers are extremely troubling and are consistent with what we've been seeing across Illinois, and, really across the country and world."

This is the second surge Dr. Fauci and others have warned about for months, the Mayor said.

"Here in Chicago, we must do something about this. You and I, individually, must do something about this right now," Lightfoot said.

"I understand that a lot of sacrifices have been made over these many months, and I also understand the fatigue factor that people have. But, folks, given what we're seeing and the incredible escalation of the rates of cases every day, this is not a time where we can indulge in COVID fatigue. This is a time for us to be more diligent and more determined to fight this deadly disease. This is a critical inflection point and a time for us now to make some changes. And on this point I want to be very, very clear: We have tried to be prudent in reopening our city and using the dimmer switch, not a light switch. And many people have done a terrific job in adhering to the public health guidance...

"But this is a time for each of us to dig down even deeper and be more diligent, and if we don't see a dramatic turnaround in our numbers, and soon, then we will not hesitate to take the steps that are necessary to save our city, to save our residents, even if that means going back to some of our Phase 3 restrictions."

The rise in case numbers we are seeing here, are happening across the board, the Mayor said. The conversations I have been having with CDPH are "What's the source? Is it targeted? Is there intervention? What can we do to push back and mitigate against these surging cases?" But the truth is, she said, is it is happening across the board, across every age and gender, across North, South, and West sides, among black, white, asians and brown residents.

"That's the troubling trend," Lightfoot said. "...I know we're all tired. I know that being diligent in the fight against COVID takes a psychological toll, takes a physical toll, but we have to be diligent and push aside the COVID fatigue.

"If we pretend that COVID is not the deadly virus that it is, the result, with certainty, is sickness and death. And now, as we head into the fall and winter months, it is the worst possible time to let our guard down. The virus is real. It is deadly...Every single day, someone dies in Chicago from COVID-19. That has not stopped."

To combat this second wave of COVID-19, Mayor Lightfoot is calling on all residents to wear masks and strictly limit social gatherings, even small ones. In a gathering of only 10 people, there is a 14 percent chance that someone is currently infected with COVID-19.

"Stopping COVID-19's spread starts with each one of us remembering precisely what is effective in the first place. And, of course, it starts with face coverings. Folks, these work. This is not partisan and it's not up for debate. This works. It saves lives. We've got to double down on wearing our mask. We've got to double down on maintaining social distance. I've heard some disturbing reports that, in certain venues across the city, in some businesses, some big spaces, in some houses of worship, that people are not taking it seriously. They are gathering en masse and endangering themselves, their loved ones, and our city. We also have to not forget that we've got to wash our hands regularly. We have to take every precaution in our toolkit. We have the power to bend this curve back down in the right direction, but we, and you, and each of us, have to be diligent."

The city is looking at "every tool" in the toolbox, including rolling back to Phase 3 restrictions or other measures as needed.

"Let me be clear: I don't want to go there," Mayor Lightfoot said.

Businesses, especially small businesses have already suffered this year, the Mayor said.

"This would be tragedy for many of them. But I've got to do what is right to protect us from this virus. So, please join me in this fight. Each of you, every one, double down, be more diligent in what you're doing to fight this disease," Lightfoot said.

Two thirds of those who got COVID-19 got it from someone they know, the Mayor said. That means it probably came from friends, family, or a coworker — and if you spread it, you'll probably spread it to someone you know.

If you are in a gathering of 10 randomly selected people in Chicago, there is a 14 percent chance that one person in that group is infected with COVID-19 right now. In a group of 25 people, there's a 30 percent chance someone in the group has COVID-19. And in a group of 50 or more, the chances go up 50 percent that someone in that group is infected with COVID-19, Lightfoot said.ed

"It's because the more people gather, the more opportunity there is for COVID-19 to spread. That's why we need to keep our group levels and gatherings as small as possible," Mayor Lightfoot said.

"We also need to vigilant on limiting the number of people we come into contact with on a daily basis. Not I know this is easier said than done, particularly for essential workers...many of whom are black and LatinX and have already been disproportionately impact by this disease...but what we can control is our home environment, which is why we need to be limiting the number of people who are coming into our homes."

Over the summer and fall, people started having dinner parties, small gatherings, card games - the "normal" things we do because we are social beings, the Mayor said. "But I'm here to tell you that, that has to stop. And particularly as we are coming on Halloween and then Thanksgiving and then Christmas and Hanukkah and other holidays. We have to be diligent to keep down the number of people that we are allowing into our homes."

To young people, the Mayor said, "we have increasingly seen large gatherings of unmasked, unmasked, young people walking down our streets," whether bar hopping, traveling in large groups to someone's apartment, etc.

"Folks, that has to stop. You are not immune to the effects and ravages of COVID-19...You are getting infected. ... When you get sick, you take that with you. You are infecting your friends and your family," Lightfoot said. "You are not immune just because you are young."

Mayor Lightfoot and Dr. Arwady are calling on all residents to recognize the seriousness of this second wave of COVID-19 and take the necessary personal steps to stem the tide. Specifically, all residents need to wear masks or face coverings anytime they are in a public space or unable to maintain six feet of social distancing. Furthermore, residents should avoid social gatherings, even small get-togethers. The more individuals that are a part of your “bubble”, the greater the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

"This is a warning sign. This is a call to action. This is the thing that we need to do as a community to protect ourselves, but also each other. We don't want to see us have to go back to the kind of restrictive measures that were commonplace in March and April and May. But if we need to, we will. I won't hesitate. This is about saving lives. It's about saving your life and the life of somebody you love and care about, and the life your neighbor and the life of our city. We can't get through this without being in this together. We prolong the misery that we're seeing spiraling up. That means more devastation across the board, more deaths, more sickness, more businesses and livelihoods dramatically and maybe irrevocably impacted," Lightfoot said.

As always, the Chicago Department of Public Health have continued to follow COVID-19 data every day. It is available to you, as well, Dr. Arwady said at http://Chicago.gov/coronavirus.

"We are sounding this alarm, because the increase is real," she said. "As our first warning sign, Chicago cases are now increasing sharply, with a rate of increase similar to what we saw early in the first wave."

Epidemiologists and public health scientists worry the most about how quickly things are changing, Dr. Arwady said. "So yes, I am very concerned that we are over 500 cases now. We're at an average of 508 cases today. But I expect this to keep growing. And although downstate, we have seen many regions that have exceeded the peak of what was seen in the spring, we are not there yet. There's no reason to think we may not get there if we're not able to bend that curve quickly. I fully expect this number to pass 600, potentially even within the week, and even to keep growing from there.

"Secondly, another warning sign: Chicago COVID-19 cases have dramatically increased across all race/ethnicity groups. I sometimes hear people saying, 'COVID's just a problem in this part of the city' or' with this particular race or ethnic group'...but look at this graph...in every one of those groups we are seeing steep increases. That is a sign that the outbreak is widespread.

"Another warning sign: Chicago cases have dramatically increased across all age groups, including among older Chicagoans," Dr. Arwady said. "...Even if it is younger people who are out and about more, and even if it is younger people feeling less concerned about COVID, they also spread it.

"Another warning sign: testing continues to increase in Chicago, yes, but the number of tests needed to identify one case is decreasing...There are a lot of people who want to say it's just an increase in testing that is driving this increase in cases, and it is true that we are breaking records for the amount of testing we are doing in Chicago...But it is not up the 40-50 percent that we're seeing cases rise...Ideally, as your tests are going up, you're needing to test more and more people to find a single case. What we see here, just in the last week, while the number of tests continued to go up, but the number that we needed to test to find one case was going down...In fact, there is more COVID."

We currently need to test just 19 people to find a positive result, Dr. Arwady said. We want that up over 20, 25, 30, even 50 "if we could get there. And it is going the wrong way."

Dr. Arwady said another warning sign is that test positivity has gone above 5 percent. "We're 5.4 percent citywide, and some ZIP codes are much higher," she said.

She said the 5.4 percent positivity is better than any other region in Illinois, "but it is not good, it is not in control and we cannot rest comfortably in that number."

Additionally, she said, hospitalizations are on the rise in Chicago.

"Our peak was at 1,200+ back in May to a low of 249 people. But since Sept. 22, we're seeing that number rise as well — up by 25 percent - 316 today...

"The cases rise first and then, unfortunately, we start to see these increases...If we're not able to turn things around," she expects more serious outcomes — deaths, ER visits, etc. — to go up.

“I’m deeply concerned about these trends and worried that we’ve got some COVID fatigue setting in where people are not following the public health guidance as they should. This virus doesn’t care who you are, it’s just looking to spread, and if we give it the opportunity to do so it will,” said Dr. Arwady. “Most troubling is the fact that COVID-19 continues to have a disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx individuals, and those with under-lying medical conditions. But we’re seeing a rise in cases across the city and across all races and ethnicities, so we all need to re-dedicate ourselves to combatting this epidemic.”

Only good news is our testing capacity is 10,000+ per day, "but we're headed the wrong way."

People worry a lot about being out and about, on the CTA, walking down the street, and you can become infected, Dr. Arwady said, "but I can tell you, it is not what we see driving infection."

"In fact, where we see the spread of COVID is where we let down our guard, where we literally let down our mask. Because we feel comfortable with those we love. But the virus is just looking for opportunities to spread," Dr. Arwady said.

"Please, do not invite anyone over to your house or apartment. This is not the time for non-essential gatherings, period...You must double down on wearing those masks, even within the home. You must double down on keeping that distance. And if it is not essential, do not invite people to your home right now who do not already live there."

She added: "I want to be very clear that scientists agree that masks work...It should cover both your mouth and your nose."

We've talked a lot about the 1918 influenza pandemic.

"First, I would like to remind you that October of 1918 was the month for the surge of influenza in 1918. It was the month where they first made the decision to stop public dancing and public funerals and then eventually, to cancel all non-essential public gatherings. It was the month they published, how to make a mask...We had baseball players wearing masks in public. Folks, we do not have a cure for COVID-19. Just as there was no cure for influenza. We do not have a vaccine for COVID-19, just as, at that point, there was no vaccine for influenza. We do not even have a lot of treatments that make a major difference if people get seriously ill with COVID. The fact of the matter is, 100 years later, we're doing a lot of the same things we had to do then because this is what is in our arsenal while our scientists continue to work on medicines and vaccines. So please do your part. We flattened the curve once. We can and will do it again. In 1918 and 1919, we saw surges, we saw peaks; we saw valleys, we saw dips. At some level, until we get to a vaccine, we are likely to see that there. We are at the beginning of a second surge here and now is the time to do the things we have in our arsenal as well as we can."