Concerns rise in Chicago over emergence of COVID-19 subvariant causing case spike in Europe

As a new sub-variant of COVID-19 causes spikes in cases overseas, Chicago health leaders say they are watching it closely.

Inside the Regional Innovative Public Health Lab at Rush University Medical Center scientists monitor what kind of COVID is making Chicagoans sick. They first detected the omicron sub-variant called BA.2 in mid-January, but it hasn't taken off like the original. Doctor Stefan Greens expects BA.2 will hit 25 percent of all cases here soon.

"It has not expanded nearly as rapidly as the Omicron did when it kind of burst onto the scene," said Green, PhD, director of the Genomic and Molecular Core Lab at Rush and co-leader of the Regional Innovative Public Health Lab, which is monitoring COVID-19 for CDPH by analyzing COVID-19 samples gathered from hospitals across the city.

But BA.2 is causing a new lockdowns in parts of Asia and spikes in western Europe.

"I’m going to be honest I am concerned about what I’m seeing happening in Europe because I think there is not full understanding of it," said Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago Department of Public Health Director.


Dr. Arwady worries our vaccination rate is not as high as in some of those countries seeing the BA.2 surges, so it could lead to more serious cases here. But she says we don't know yet if we will see jumps in cases like some overseas countries.

"It is not a for sure thing that we will follow them. We may. But there are some other countries that have gone through an Omicron surge and have not seen that resurgence yet," said Arwady.

One big positive on our side, all of Chicago's COVID metrics are down to last summer's numbers, almost down to historic lows.

They're so low, the Regional Innovative Public health lab has gone from being overwhelmed with specimens to trying to get enough to do its work:

"Our partner medical institutes are actually having difficulty getting us the 15 specimens a week, simply because in some cases they don't have that many positive specimens, which is really good," said Dr. Green.

Still the health officials watching for BA.2 remind us this pandemic certainly isn't over yet.