• Tracking the variant

Live updates: Omicron Variant in Chicago

Chicago’s top doc answers COVID-19 questions

Dr. Allison Arwady, the Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner speaks to the public, as numbers of positive COVID-19 cases increase, at City Hall on January 4, 2022. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Chicago’s top health official said Thursday it’s still too early to know if COVID-19 infections in the city have peaked or are on the way down.

Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Chicago continues to see an omicron surge.

On Thursday, the city reported a daily average of about 5,000 new cases of COVID-19, down 7% from a week ago. But the daily average of hospitalizations is nearly 200, an increase of 24% compared with last week. And the daily average of deaths is 20, up 51% from a week ago.

Arwady said, “Risk remains relatively high, especially for folks who are unvaccinated.”

She added, “We’ve got more people right now hospitalized in non-ICU with COVID in Chicago than we have ever had, going all the way back to the beginning of the pandemic. And across the ICU we’ve got 312 people in the ICU with COVID-19. Almost all of these folks are unvaccinated.”

Arwady said the best way to prevent the spread of the virus is to keep up with handwashing, maintaining physical distance and wearing a facemask.

Her department this week sent all Chicago aldermanic offices 20,000 KN95 masks intended for community distribution. They are meant to be handed out first to those at high risk of severe illness, and then to the rest of the public.

The department said it’s a one-time distribution to curb the spread of omicron.

Residents can set up a pick up time with their alderman through Friday.