Mar 17, 2022 - COVID

Potential COVID bumps ahead

Percentage change in COVID-19 levels detected in Illinois wastewater treatment plants
Data: CDC. Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Officials took a victory lap Tuesday to celebrate low COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations after a long two-year battle with the virus.

  • But recent data suggests we could be facing trouble ahead.

Driving the news: New wastewater surveillance data from the CDC shows rising COVID levels in Cook County.

  • Two recent wastewater samples from the city and northwest suburbs showed a 1,000% increase in the presence of the virus over two weeks.

Yes, but: University of Illinois at Chicago wastewater researchers tempered concern in an interview with ABC-7, noting that the exponential rise started with very low virus levels.

  • At a Tuesday press conference, health commissioner Allison Arwady said the wastewater program is still "in its infancy" but noted, "we are watching [data] closely."

Zoom out: Several large metro areas are seeing similar increases in wastewater.

Variant watch: New city data also shows a one-week rise of local BA.2 variant infections from 13% to 23% of cases.

The big picture: Arwady says she won't be surprised to see local cases rise with the recent relaxation of mask and vaccine mandates.

  • But she does not expect to reimpose mask mandates unless the Chicago area returns to the high (or "red") category based on recent CDC metrics.

What's next: Arwady will do a deep dive on variants during her virtual briefing today at 11am.

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