In Illinois, no one has escaped the impact of the COVID-19 omicron variant. Every county, age group and racial demographic has experienced an explosion of COVID-19 cases since the first omicron case was reported in Chicago on Dec. 7, 2021.
But the cases have skyrocketed for some groups and geographic areas more than others, shows a WBEZ analysis of COVID-19 data from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the city of Chicago. The rapid growth of cases has even occurred in areas where the vast majority of residents have received at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
A WBEZ analysis of state data suggests that omicron has hit Chicago the hardest. When the first case of omicron was reported, Chicago’s seven-day COVID-19 case rate was lower than it was for suburban Cook County, the surrounding five collar counties (DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties) and the remaining downstate counties in Illinois. However, the city’s seven-day COVID-19 case rate is now five-and-a-half times higher — that’s more than the growth seen in suburban Cook County (more than four times higher), the collar counties (more than three times higher, collectively) and downstate (more than two times higher, collectively).
At the start of the pandemic, the impact of COVID-19 weighed more heavily on Black residents, particularly in Chicago. The first month of the pandemic levied steep case and death rates upon Black Chicagoans. Over the past year or so, those figures have dropped dramatically.
But since omicron’s arrival, Black Chicagoans are once again witnessing the highest and sharpest growing COVID-19 rates in the city. The seven-day case rate for Black Chicagoans has risen nearly sixfold since omicron’s arrival, the most among the city’s four largest racial or ethnic groups. And, as of Monday, the rate for Black Chicagoans was the highest — 26% more than the rate for white Chicagoans, the group with the second-highest figure.
Statewide, COVID-19 cases have increased the most among young adults — particularly individuals in their 20s and 30s — since the arrival of omicron. But the growth in cases for those groups has been even more pronounced in Chicago.
For instance, 20- to 29-year-olds in the city have seen COVID-19 cases increase by more than 500% between the four-week period before and after omicron was found in the city. In the four weeks since Dec. 7, 2021, individuals in their 20s and 30s, collectively, account for 45% of all COVID-19 cases reported in Chicago.
In response to the rising cases, city and state officials have implored residents to get vaccinated to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to protect themselves from its most severe consequences. While the number of COVID-19 deaths have increased in recent weeks, the number of deaths in relation to the number of cases reported has declined. According to a WBEZ analysis of data from the Cook County medical examiner, the ratio of COVID-19 deaths to cases is less than half for the four-week period since omicron compared to the immediately preceding four-week period.
However, fighting the spread of omicron may require more than two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. WBEZ’s analysis shows that Chicago ZIP codes with high vaccination rates are experiencing comparable COVID-19 case rates to areas with far lower percentages of residents receiving two doses of a vaccine.
As of this week, Illinois Department of Public Health figures show that only about a quarter of Illinois residents have received a COVID-19 booster shot.
Alden Loury is senior editor of WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities Desk. Follow him @AldenLoury.