How COVID in Chicago has evolved since city's first case 3 years ago

Sarah Schulte Image
Wednesday, January 25, 2023
How COVID in Chicago has evolved since city's first case
EMBED <>More Videos

COVID continues to be a global pandemic. Yet here in Chicago, as most people move around maskless, the virus is no longer feared as it was three years ago.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Wednesday marks three years since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the city of Chicago.

In the months that followed, we saw hospitals fill up with patients, businesses shut down and changes that affected almost every facet of our lives.

COVID continues to be a global pandemic. Yet here in Chicago, as most people move around maskless, the virus is no longer feared as it was three years ago.

When public health officials announced the first known COVID-19 case in Chicago, it was the beginning of what began as a very small threat to a deadly disease in just a few short months.

"We had to expand our ICU capabilities over and over again," recalled Dr. Benjamin Singer, a pulmonologist at Northwestern Medicine. "It was all hands on deck."

Dr. Singer took care of COVID patients and saw many die in the first few months. About 350 Chicagoans died of the virus every week during the spring of 2020. Now, it's about one person a week.

"We've learned a lot how to take care of these patients once they come into hospital and ICU, what medications to give, what medications not to give," Dr. Singer said.

From a shortage of PPE to long testing and vaccine lines, and now back to normal, COVID has evolved.

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Alfredo Mena Lora says what has surprised him the most about the virus is asymptomatic transmission and how quickly science developed ways to control COVID.

"We have tests easily available to use at home, we have pills that can prevent you from progression and very powerful vaccines that can protect us," Dr. Mena Lora said.

Dr. Mena Lora said the effectiveness of the vaccines is why Chicago is not experiencing what many predicted to be a post-holiday COVID surge. He said natural immunity from getting COVID only plays a slight role.

"The first year and a half before vaccines were widely available, I saw patients more than once on more than one wave then another with severe disease," Dr. Mena Lora said. "That shows you that natural immunity wasn't enough."

Doctors say because the virus is likely to surprise us again, vaccines will continue to play a major role.

And this week, the FDA is proposing a major change in its vaccine strategy. On Thursday, it will ask a panel to consider an annual COVID shot, similar to the flu.