Illinois has 1,000 monkeypox cases, most in Chicago
Illinois surpassed 1,000 cases of monkeypox on Friday, a milestone that comes less than three months after the illness first emerged in Illinois.
Of the state’s 1,005 confirmed and probable cases reported Friday, at least 807 have arisen in Chicago and 46 Chicagoans have been hospitalized with the disease.. But the notable number also comes after Chicago and Illinois saw numbers of new cases slow for two straight weeks, according to public health data.
The stagnant growth led Chicago Public Health Director Dr. Allison Arwady to share cautious optimism on Tuesday.
“It’s too early to say things look really good, but there are definitely signs of a slowdown in cases,” Arwady said as he shared the national case count. “We’re not seeing the potentially exponential growth that we were seeing early on.”
Local data shows “early signs of a possible plateau in new cases,” said Arwady, who presented a slideshow during his weekly Q&A on Tuesday in which the phrase “good news” often appeared in green letters. The time it takes for the number of Chicago monkeypox cases to double has risen from 9.5 days throughout the outbreak to 31.9 days in the past two weeks, even as testing has increased, she added.
Monkeypox has spread to almost every community in Chicago, and the hardest hit areas closely match the areas that receive the most vaccinations, according to Arwady.
“I would like to see more vaccination happen, especially on the south side,” Arwady said.
Her department plans to continue to focus on vaccinating at-risk black and Latinx people, she added. While blacks and Latinx make up 22% and 31% of local monkeypox cases, they make up only 12% and 17% of Chicagoans vaccinated through mid-August, according to CDPH data.
The state’s response is now led by a new Director of Public Health, Dr. Sameer Vohra, whose first day as head of the Illinois Department of Public Health was Aug. 1, the day Governor JB Pritzker has declared monkeypox a public health emergency. Vohra likens his new gig, which also has him juggling the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, to having a newborn baby.
“Even if you think about what it will be like to be a parent, once you’re there, you’re just living it,” he told the Tribune.
But while first-time parents might face midnight cries, Vohra, born in Chicago’s Irving Park neighborhood, had to react to the nation’s first daycare exposure to monkeypox during her first week.
“It’s a very humbling job,” he said.
Reflecting on the state of the monkeypox outbreak, IDPH’s new director noted that internal modeling predicted Illinois would pass 1,400 cases by mid-August. The flawed predictions suggest vaccination efforts and targeted messaging campaigns have worked, Vohra said, crediting partnerships with LGBTQ-focused groups and healthcare providers like Equality Illinois and Howard Brown Health.
“We are making a positive effort to reduce the spread,” he said. “We are showing the effects of our public health response. Of course, we want this public health response to be constantly better. »
The biggest challenge has been the limited supply of vaccines, Vohra said. The federal government has been criticized for what some have described as unclear messaging and an avoidable shortage of vaccines. The supply of vaccines is now steadily increasing across the country. Vohra did not offer specific criticism of the state and federal response to the monkeypox virus.
“We can always do things better when it comes to public health,” he said.
While the virus is spreading primarily among gay and bisexual men, the state’s public health department plans to continue to focus its monkeypox efforts on those most at risk, Vohra said. But as the disease emerged in new counties, IDPH began working directly within other groups, including colleges and daycares, he added. People who aren’t at high risk should still know about the virus, which can infect anyone, Vohra said.
“Our goal is for this spread to be eliminated from all populations. But that risk is there,” he said.
Vohra supported the governor’s declaration of a public health emergency related to monkeypox. The statement intensified the state’s response by allowing agencies to coordinate more effectively and use new tools in the fight against the disease. A similar federal statement came days later.
The monkeypox virus first emerged in Illinois in early June, weeks after it spread to America in a global outbreak. The smallpox-related disease was first detected in humans in 1970 and is endemic in parts of West and Central Africa.
The dangerous virus can cause flu-like symptoms, swollen lymph nodes, and large, painful rashes all over the body and often around the genital area that look like pimples or blisters. Symptoms of monkeypox can last up to four weeks.
Vohra said he loved Illinois. And he’s definitely been around her. The Chicago native and child of immigrants grew up in the western suburb of Westmont. He was an undergraduate at Northwestern University in Evanston, earned a dual degree in medicine and law from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, went to medical school in Springfield, and trained in pediatrics at the ‘University of Chicago.
He has since returned to the SIU, where he chaired a new department aimed at innovating in public health. The places he saw and the things he learned led him to see health as “a great unifier”.
“A lot of the challenges we face are similar,” he said. He is optimistic that more community-based approaches to public health will bring people together.
This unity will need to emerge despite the division sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic and as the state continues to respond to the disease, which still kills about 10 people every day in Illinois.
Hospitalizations have leveled off across the state, he noted. Nearly 1,400 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois hospitals, including 148 in intensive care units, according to IDPH data. Vohra’s recent IDPH decisions to adopt CDC-recommended relaxations of school masking rules show the pandemic is changing, he said.
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“It’s a real acknowledgment of that change over time, but really understanding that all of these available tools are there, with the most effective tool still being vaccination,” he said.
Lessons learned in the fight against the coronavirus continue to help IDPH do better, he said. Increased communication and the ability to respond quickly are helping the department train medical practitioners in a new method of low-dose monkeypox vaccination, he added.
Vohra knows that respiratory viruses like COVID-19 generally spread more in the winter. He hopes continued public messaging and the arrival of an updated coronavirus vaccine will prevent a new wave of infections. There hasn’t been as much variance in the virus since the highly transmissible BA.5 strand spread, he added.
“We are doing everything in our power to plan and prepare for a fall surge. Hopefully we won’t see any,” Vohra said.
For more information on how to get a monkeypox vaccine, visit the Chicago Department of Public Health Monkeypox Vaccination Page.