Dec 7, 2022 - COVID

Avoiding a holiday tripledemic

Illustration of a Christmas tree with COVID balls as ornaments.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Health commissioner Allison Arwady is warning that low overall vaccination rates coupled with rising COVID-19, flu and RSV cases could spell trouble for the holidays.

Why it matters: "National influenza hospitalizations are higher than they have been in the past decade right now," Arwady said during her weekly briefing yesterday, noting that 28 Chicagoans had gone to the ICU with the flu in the previous seven days.

State of play: Though RSV numbers are starting to fall, it recently put tremendous pressure on local hospitals and pediatric units.

  • Chicago remains at medium risk level for COVID transmission, but officials are finding high levels of the virus in local wastewater, which Arwady notes, "often precedes a little bit of an increase in case levels."
Chicago's "influenza like illness" levels were high in late November 2022 (left) but low in late November 2021 according to Health Department data.

Driving the news: The number of people reporting flu-like symptoms surged from late November 2021 to late November 2022 — and yet 11,000 fewer local children have taken this year's vaccine.

  • And fewer than 16% of Chicagoans have gotten the latest bivalent COVID booster.

Yes, but: Arwady notes the current vaccines match well with this year's dominant flu strain and omicron variants.

  • Though vaccines can't guarantee total protection against contracting the illness, they can reduce severe outcomes.

Between the lines: When asked whether people should skip holiday parties, Arwady and her medical director, Michelle Funk, offered tips rather than prohibitions.

  • "With flu cases increasing, it's a good idea to wear a mask in any public space where you don't know the vaccine status of others," Funk said.
  • Arwady further advised staying home if you feel sick, moving the shindig outdoors or at least cracking a window or using an air filter, "to limit the risk."

What's next: The city is holding vaccination events in Harvey and Morgan Park on Saturday.

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