Chicago’s top doctor showed cautious optimism Tuesday on the spread of the monkeypox virus as cases in the city may be starting to plateau. Just weeks earlier, officials issued several warnings as cases were on the rise ahead of major summer festivals like Lollapalooza and Market Days.
As of Tuesday, there have been 793 monkeypox cases reported in Chicago since the outbreak began in June. So far there have been 113 new cases reported from last week, compared to 138 and 141 cases the prior two weeks.
“The good thing is we’re not seeing the potentially exponential growth that we were seeing early on,” Dr. Allison Arwady said during a Facebook Live on Tuesday.
But she stopped short of calling the decreasing case count a trend, noting that it’s “too early to say this for sure.”
Arwady said testing in Chicago “broadly continues to increase” — a sign the drop in cases may not be the artificial result of people not getting tested.
“In the week of Aug. 13, even though cases were down a little bit … testing was actually up,” Arwady said. “So that is a good sign that, at least that week, it was probably a real decline, as opposed to just a drop off in testing.”
While North Side neighborhoods like Lake View, Uptown and Edgewater have had the highest number of cases, Arwady said the virus has been found across the city, with cases reported in 65 of Chicago’s 77 community areas. The highest vaccination rates remain in the areas with the highest case numbers.
“I would like to see some more vaccination happening, especially on the South Side,” Arwady said, noting the department is working with community partners to get more people vaccinated in those neighborhoods.
Although anyone can get monkeypox, the outbreak in Chicago and beyond continues to primarily affect gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men. While the vaccine continues to be prioritized for anyone who is a close contact with someone diagnosed with monkeypox, the city also recently expanded eligibility to include all sexually active men who have sex with men.
In an effort to get more people vaccinated, a new strategy approved by the FDA calls for injecting a smaller amount of the vaccine just under the surface of the skin. This approach allows providers to get more shots per vial.
“It’s been a game changer, I would say here in Chicago, in terms of the number of appointments we’re able to have available, how far we can stretch vaccine and I’m pleased about it,” Arwady said.
As of last week, the majority of Chicago’s vaccine sites have switched to the new method, which has also allowed the city to resume offering the second dose of the vaccine once people are eligible 28 days after their first dose. The city had previously been prioritizing first shots only in order to get more people vaccinated.
The vaccine is not recommended for the general public at this time, although Arwady said guidelines may change in the future. People who have previously had monkeypox are not advised to get the vaccine.
For more information on the monkeypox outbreak, we’ve answered some frequently asked questions here, including the risks of attending social gatherings and whether condoms stop the spread of the virus.
Courtney Kueppers is a digital producer/reporter at WBEZ. Follow her @cmkueppers.