Flu-like activity is now high in Illinois, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The jump from a low level of activity last week to high this week comes as Cook County also joins several other counties in the region at the medium risk level for COVID-19 transmissions.
“My concern is that COVID really takes off and flu really takes off, it’s really going to continue to stretch our hospital capacity,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of public health for the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Dr. Arwady said an increase in hospital admissions is what pushed Cook County into the medium level for COVID transmissions.
UI Health is one of the hospitals that has seen the most COVID cases in recent weeks.
“I’m getting a lot more calls over the past two weeks from people with COVID,” said Dr. Richard Novak, chief infectious disease officer at UI Health.
Yet, vaccination rates for the bivalent booster remain low nationwide. In Chicago, 13% of eligible people got the updated vaccine.
“People tend to forget that the purpose of a vaccine is not just to get the infection, but to keep you from getting very sick,” Dr Novak said.
The bivalent booster was designed to combat both the original coronavirus and the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, but new data from the Chicago Department of Public Health shows that BA.5 only represents 35% of cases right now, with other sub-variants including BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 growing.
“We have all these other omicron sub-variants that keep emerging. When we see many subvariants emerging, we also know that means there is more spread of covid, in general,” Dr Arwady said.
New research published Monday by Moderna shows that its bivalent booster generates antibodies against growing strains BQ.1 and BQ.1.1.
“It again protects these other omicron variants like BQ.1 and BQ1.1 and there are more (sub-variants) to come and we need as much protection as possible,” Dr. Novak said.