With cases rising and 15 Illinois counties including Cook County at “high community level” of the COVID virus, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady on Thursday urged people once again to wear masks in public indoor settings, move Memorial Day weekend gatherings outside -- and warned against trying to "get COVID to get it over with."
"Please do not try to 'get COVID to get it over with,'" Arwaday said.
"We are hearing people trying to do that. This does nothing to help us get over COVID as a city," she continued. "It also is potentially dangerous given that we don't always know who is likely to have more severe outcomes, and there are people who get long COVID. Don't think that getting COVID means you'll never get COVID again. We see plenty of people get re-infected with COVID. The vaccine is the most important thing for protection."
According to a new study from Northwestern Medicine, many so-called COVID "long-haulers" who experienced mild symptoms and were never hospitalized for the virus continue to experience symptoms including brain fog, tingling, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, tinnitus and fatigue an average of 15 months after the onset of the virus.
Those "long-haulers" are individuals who have had COVID symptoms for six or more weeks.
While officials stay state will only revert back to a mask mandate if the hospital system is threatened, Arwady also stressed the importance of wearing a mask while cases are on the rise.
"Yes, that means you regardless of your vaccination status as we move into 'high'", Arwady said. "But even while there isn't a mandate in place, we ask everybody for this short time period while we're in 'high' is to put I put that mask on, especially if you're an indoor crowded setting."
Why COVID is Spreading
The biggest reason there is more COVID spread right now, Arwady said, is because the current variant is much more contagious than previous ones.
"We've seen now two subvariants come through and overtake the early version of Omicron," Arwady said, referring to BA.2.12.1. "This the most contagious version of Omicron we've seen yet."
According to last week’s data, the BA.2.12.1 subvariant of omicron made up an estimated 47.5% of COVID cases in the United States.
Testing and Quarantine Guidelines
In addition to making sure you're up-to-date on booster shots -- which are now approved and recommended for anyone age 5 or older -- Arwady recommended residents continue to test, whether through PCR tests or at-home tests, as it helps to limit risk.
"What I don't want is people not testing because they're worried about the stigma. There is no shame in getting COVID," Arwady said.
If you do test positive for COVID, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 10-day isolation and quarantine guidance remains the same whether you've been fully vaccinated or not.
"If you are diagnosed with COVID right now, you need to stay home for five days," Arwady said, referring to the CDC's guidance. "If you're feeling better, after five days, you can leave your house, but you need to keep masking while around others for days six through 10."
"High" Covid Alert Level
A total of 15 of Illinois’ 102 counties are now at a “high community level” of the virus, according to officials.
Under new guidelines released by the CDC, a county is considered to be at a “high community level” of COVID when its average number of weekly cases per 100,000 residents rises above 200, and when it either is averaging 10 weekly COVID hospital admissions or when it’s seeing 10% or more of its hospital beds occupied by COVID patients.
All six of the counties that are in that "high" level have gone there because of weekly hospital admissions, according to CDC data.
In the event that a county reaches a “high community level” of COVID, residents are advised to wear masks indoors regardless of coronavirus vaccination status, according to the CDC.
Those residents who are immunocompromised, or who live in a household with those residents, are urged to consider avoiding “non-essential indoor activities,” and to consult with their physicians on additional steps that may need to be taken.
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