Influenza-like activity is now high in Illinois, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The move from low activity level last week to high this week, comes as Cook County also joins several other area counties at the medium risk level for COVID-19 transmissions.
“My concern is as COVID really takes off and as the flu really takes off that it is really going to continue to stretch our hospital capacity,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, the public health commissioner for the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Dr. Arwady said an increase in hospital admissions is what pushed Cook County into the medium level for COVID transmissions.
UI Health is one of the hospitals that has seen more COVID cases these last few weeks.
“I’m getting many more calls just in the last couple of weeks of people with COVID,” said Dr. Richard Novak, chief of infectious diseases at UI Health.
Yet, vaccination rates for the bivalent booster remain low nationwide. In Chicago, 13% of those eligible have gotten the updated shot.
“People tend to forget that the goal of a vaccine is not simply from getting the infection but it’s to keep you from getting very sick,” Dr. Novak said.
The bivalent booster was designed to fight both the original coronavirus and the omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, but new data from the Chicago Department of Public Health shows BA.5 making up only 35% of the cases right now, with other subvariants, including BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 growing.
“We have all these other omicron subvariants that continue to emerge. When we see a lot of subvariants emerging, we also know that means there is more covid spread, generally,” Dr. Arwady said.
New research released Monday from Moderna shows its bivalent booster is generating antibodies against the growing strains BQ.1 and BQ.1.1.
“It does cross protect again these other omicron variants like BQ.1 and BQ1.1 and there are more (subvariants) coming and we need as much protection as we can get,” Dr. Novak said.