No surge, but still 'jarring': COVID cases creeping up in Chicago

Earlier this summer, Dr. Sindhu Aderson could go multiple shifts without seeing a single COVID-19 patient on her rounds as medical director of Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care Centers.

Over the past few weeks, she’s seen at least four or five patients treated for the viral infection per day.

"It’s always a jarring thing," Aderson said of the latest incremental uptick of the pandemic. "COVID has never gone away, but it does surprise you when it starts creeping back up again."

The days of shuttered restaurants and mask mandates might feel like socially distant memories, but Aderson and other physicians say Chicago’s late-summer rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations — no matter how slight — is a reminder the virus still packs a devastating punch for vulnerable communities.

"I anticipate cases will still keep climbing up there a bit, especially as we enter fall and more people go indoors," Aderson said. "It’s important for people to be cognizant of the risk for themselves and for others."

The Chicago Department of Public Health reported 72 laboratory-confirmed COVID cases for the week ending Aug. 9, a 4% increase from the previous week. About six people were admitted to hospitals due to the virus per day, up from about four.

On average, the virus is killing one Chicagoan roughly every three days, a rate that is at a low for the pandemic.

Those figures represent a minuscule fraction of what they were in the worst days of the pandemic. More than 6,000 Chicagoans were testing positive and well over 200 were hospitalized per day at the height of the Omicron variant surge in early 2022. And about 50 COVID deaths were reported each day across the city in the spring of 2020.


The recent increases are small, but they indicate wider transmission across the region.

"That’s only the people who are getting lab tests or getting so sick that they need to go to the hospital," said UI Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Susan Bleasdale, who has gone from having only one COVID patient — if any — admitted at a time for most of the summer, up to about four. "The case numbers are very likely higher in the community."

Former Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the slight uptick in the city mirrors increases seen across most of the country. "We’re seeing a very small uptick in some cases here, but nothing that is giving me great concern at this point," she said Wednesday, two days before she was fired by Mayor Brandon Johnson in a cabinet shakeup.

And following the nationwide pattern, about 20% of new cases in the Chicago area are being caused by the EG.5 subvariant of the virus, a descendant of Omicron, according to professor Hannah Barbian, a genomic virologist at Rush University Medical Center.

Like generations of viral mutations before it, the latest iteration of COVID has proven "slightly more fit than other viruses" thanks to a protein that makes it harder for antibodies to stick to it — and easier for it to spread, Barbian said.

"The virus is constantly changing, which might sound concerning, but the tools we have to protect ourselves are still working quite well," she said.

Those tools haven’t changed.

"The main thing to do is, if you have never been vaccinated, get vaccinated. It greatly reduces the chances of having a severe infection," said Dr. John Segreti, medical director of infection prevention and control at Rush. "If you have gotten vaccinated, make sure you’re up to date with boosters."

The experts agreed on the other pandemic tenets, too: Wash your hands regularly. Avoid poorly ventilated areas. Take a COVID test if you feel sick. Stay home until you feel better, regardless of test results. And mask up if you’re sick or around people who could be.

Updated COVID boosters are expected to be approved by federal regulators next month.

The city health department still offers in-home vaccination appointments on the weekends by calling (312) 746-4835.

For more help finding a shot, visit