The Crusader Newspaper Group

Omicron strikes as low vaccination rates plague Blacks

Positivity Rates

The fast-moving Omicron variant of the coronavirus struck Chicago late Tuesday, December 7, renewing concerns of low vaccinated neighborhoods, as Illinois joined at least 17 states to be infected with the latest mutation that spreads the deadly disease.

The Omicron variant surfaced as the Delta variant continues to ravage Black neighborhoods in Chicago, where 12 people died of COVID-19 in just one week as vaccination rates remain low in those communities.

With the Omicron variant spreading faster than the Delta variant, there is renewed concern about the health of unvaccinated residents.

Public health officials are also alarmed that Illinois’ first case of the Omicron variant is a fully vaccinated Chicago resident who had received a booster dose.

They said that person had been in contact with a visitor to the city who contracted Omicron. Details about the person’s age, race and neighborhood were not released as of press time Wednesday, December 8, for the print edition of the Chicago Crusader.

Health officials in Chicago and Illinois said the infected Chicagoan “did not require hospitalization, is improving and has been self-isolating since their symptoms began.” Health officials said further contact tracing is underway.

“While unsurprising, this news should remind Chicagoans of the ongoing threat from COVID-19, especially as families prepare to come together over the holidays,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a statement.

“We know how to slow the spread of this virus: get vaccinated, get boosted, get tested if you have symptoms or have been in contact with someone with COVID-19, and stay away from others if you test positive.”

Since it was first detected November 24 in South Africa, the Omicron variant has been in the global spotlight as it quickly spreads to countries across the world. It was designated as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization the day after Thanksgiving and has emerged in at least 19 U.S. states.

In the U.S., the Omicron variant was first confirmed on December 1 in the San Francisco-area in a resident who had just returned from South Africa.

Later, a Minnesota resident reportedly tested positive with the Omicron variant after attending an anime convention in New York City, where more cases have been detected.

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Omicron variant is spreading much faster than other mutations.

In Chicago, local officials believe the Omicron variant was spreading in Illinois for several weeks before it was detected through genomic sequencing, a process that entails analyzing the genetic structure of COVID-19 test samples.

Still, not much is known about the Omicron variant as the Delta variant continues to be the dominant mutation that is causing a new surge in COVID-19 cases across the countries as indoor gatherings increase during the holidays.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the Omicron variant “likely will spread more easily” than earlier versions of the virus.

Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are at some of the highest levels seen in Illinois since last winter.

A Crusader analysis revealed more residents in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods died of COVID-19 than in any of the city’s ethnic groups.

In just one week, 12 residents in Chicago’s Black or diverse zip codes died of COVID-19. Two died in 60619, which includes parts of Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing and Avalon Park.

Two people also died in zip code 60620, which includes Auburn Gresham, Chatham and Beverly. Two people also died in zip code 60628, which includes Pullman, Roseland and West Pullman.

Two people also died in zip code 60644, which is the Austin neighborhood on the West Side.

Chicago’s positivity rate is 4.1 percent as of December 7. Last week it was 3.3 percent.

Of 19 Black zip codes, two have positivity rates higher than the city. They include 60617 (East Side, South Chicago, Avalon Park) which had a 4.8 positivity rate percentage, and 60633 whose positivity rate was 8 percent. However, the latest positivity rate in those neighborhoods was lower this week than the previous week.

And since last week, a Crusader analysis of public health data show the positivity rates declined in 15 Black zip codes.

Earlier Tuesday, December 7, Dr. Arwady said ahead of the announcement of the detection of the Omicron variant that its presence would not “surprise” her. She said officials have been working each day to sequence additional virus samples and test wastewater.

“The question is not: ‘Can we find omicron?’” Arwady said during a Tuesday question-and-answer session. “The question is: ‘What is our response?’ So, vaccinations remain the most important thing.”

As of Tuesday, North Carolina, Tennessee and Washington, D.C., returned to the list of states from which unvaccinated travelers must take extra COVID-19 precautions upon arrival in Chicago.

Every state and territory except Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas, and the Virgin Islands is covered by the travel advisory.

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