Allison Arwady, City Hall’s calming voice on COVID, hopes to stay on under next mayor

Her boss at City Hall has been voted out of office. The police superintendent has left. But the doctor who advised Chicagoans about how to live our lives during the COVID-19 pandemic is still here and has no plans to step down.

"There are certainly people, I am sure, who are frustrated by me or by my department, but, by and large, we’ve tried to really do our best to be really transparent and straightforward with Chicagoans," says Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s public health commissioner.

Arwady says she loves her job and will stay — if the next mayor wants her.

Public health is what she does and wants to continue to do, she says.

"I would never run for public office," she says. "God bless the people who do."


The world has slowed considerably since the frantic early days of the pandemic, when Arwady would scroll through an "out-of-control" email inbox each morning. That would be followed by a conference call with her staff and a Facebook Live question-and-answer session, where she answered the same questions from worried Chicagoans again and again.

These days, Arwady spends about 10% of her time dealing directly with COVID but more time tackling "fallout" from the disease: mental health issues, substance abuse and funding to maintain the measures that she says have made Chicago better prepared when the next pandemic comes.

"I’m really worried about it," she says of funding. "We have a history in this country of funding public health in this boom-and-bust way."

Early in the pandemic, Arwady says "random Chicagoans" would approach her, asking for medical advice.

But some of the public contact she got was worrisome.

"I did get some scary mail at my house," she says. "There are a lot of people out there, including people who don’t live in Chicago, who are not real happy with public health leaders."

As a result, she traveled with a security detail in the early days of the pandemic.

Arwady says she tested positive for the coronavirus just once, last August.

She says she still rides the L, always keeps a mask handy, is back to leading walking and river tours of Chicago architecture like she did before the pandemic — and doesn’t get recognized as much as she used to. Which is OK, she says.

"I was never anybody who wanted to be recognized on the street, certainly not for a disease," she says.

If whoever becomes the new mayor doesn’t want her to stay, Arwady, who was educated at Harvard, Yale and Columbia, says she’d be disappointed.

But she says: "I’ve had job offers. I’ve been called a lot, asking, ‘Am I interested in being considered for this role or that role?’ I’ve turned every one of those considerations down at this point because I really like what I’m doing here."