Officials: More contagious coronavirus variant found in Illinois

A more contagious variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in the United Kingdom late last year has been found in Illinois, state health officials announced Friday.

The Chicago Department of Public Health and Illinois Department of Public Health said the variant was identified in the state by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine through "sequencing analysis of a specimen from bio-banked samples of COVID-19 positive tests."

"This news isn’t surprising and doesn’t change our guidance around COVID-19. We must double down on the recommended safety strategies we know help stop the spread of this virus," said CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D. "In order to protect Chicago, please continue to wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands often, do not have outside guests in your home, and get vaccinated when it is your turn."

(Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The person who tested positive in Illinois has traveled to the UK and the Middle East in the two weeks prior to testing positive, health officials said in a statement.


"When we learned of this and other COVID-19 variants, we increased our surveillance efforts by performing genomic sequence testing on an increased number of specimens," said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. "We will continue to collaborate with our academic partners, local health departments like CDPH, hospitals, and the CDC to monitor for additional cases."

Evidence suggests that this variant can spread more easily than most currently-circulating strains of COVID-19, but there is no evidence that the new strain affects the sensitivity of diagnostic tests or that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death. Data suggests current vaccines will be effective and safe in providing protection against the variant.

CDPH, IDPH and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in collaboration with various public health agencies, are closely monitoring this strain.

Meanwhile, state health officials reported 6,642 new cases of COVID-19 statewide. The new cases were among 107,156 tests sent to the Illinois Department of Public Health over the past 24 hours, lowering the state’s test positivity rate to 6.5% from 6.8%.

The state also reported 123 additional deaths.


The total number of coronavirus cases now stands at 1,059,324 since the start of the pandemic, health officials said. At least 18,049 people in Illinois have died from the virus.

As of Thursday night, 726,475 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered to providers in Illinois, plus an additional  268,525 doses allocated to the federal government’s Pharmacy Partnership Program for long-term care facilities. This brings the state’s total doses to 995,000.

At least 447,348 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered so far in Illinois, including 56,624 for long-term care facilities officials said.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.