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Chicago on alert as dozens of new coronavirus cases emerge

Dozens of new coronavirus cases have emerged in Chicago as the city’s positivity rate continues to rise while residents remain indoors during a chilly spring season.

As of April 5, the positivity rate in Chicago was 1.7 percent, up from 1.3 percent a week ago on March 29. On March 22, the city’s positivity rate was 1.1 percent.

The neighborhoods with the highest positivity are mostly downtown and the city’s North Side, which have the highest vaccination rates in the city. Zip code 60661, which includes The Loop, West Town and the near South, West and North Sides, had a positivity rate of 6.5 percent, the highest in the city and higher than the state positivity rate of 2 percent.

Meanwhile, the positivity rate in most Black neighborhoods on the South and West Sides remains lower one percent with all below the city average, according to April 5 data from Chicago’s COVID-19 dashboard.

However, the positivity rate in 13 Black zip codes has been inching up in the past three weeks. Last week, Englewood’s zip code 60621 reported a zero-positivity rate for five days before it jumped to .4 percent on April 5. In zip code 60616, which includes Grand Boulevard, Washington Park, Kenwood and Washington Park, the positivity rate on April 5 was 1.8 percent, the highest on the South Side and the only one above the city average. The previous positive rate on March 29 was 1 percent. Three additional Black zip codes on the South Side had positivity rates over one percent after reporting a lower positivity rate the previous week.

A total of 5 people died of COVID-19 in Black zip codes in the past week. The weekly death toll the previous week was three.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week said that BA.2, the subvariant of the Omicron variant continues to rapidly spread throughout the U.S. and now accounts for about 72 percent of all new COVID-19 cases. Last week the BA.2 made up about 55 percent of new coronavirus cases.

State health officials say the BA.2 variant accounts for about 25% of the cases in Illinois.

“Although that percentage has been steadily rising, we have not seen a commensurate rise in cases or hospitalizations,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said during an unrelated news conference Monday.

Medical experts say the BA.2 variant is more contagious than other variants but less severe. Scientists don’t expect as the BA.2 variant to create a surge in cases as people spend more time outdoors as the weather warms up.

Many state testing locations have closed as residents use more home testing kits. Governor Pritzker said the state replenished its stockpile of medical supplies and has more than 1.5 million rapid tests with more on the way.

With summer approaching, city leaders are anticipating the full return of all festivals and concerts to pre-pandemic levels, including the Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza, the Bud Billiken Parade. Most businesses have lifted their own mask mandate but patrons at some supermarkets and fitness gyms continue to wear masks.

Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago’s Public Health commissioner, said shutting everything down and taking drastic measures to keep a virus out is unrealistic.

“Countries that had been aiming for a zero goal, it’s really not possible with a variant as infectious,” A5rwady said.

Nationwide, the seven-day average of Covid cases is at about 29,000, down by 19 percent from two weeks ago, according to an NBC News tally.

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