A new debate is stirring over whether or not unvaccinated Illinois residents should have to pay for their own medical expenses if they contract COVID-19.
This comes as cases around the state continue to rise and the omicron variant grows its hold in the Midwest, with officials announcing the first case in Illinois.
Here's what you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic across Illinois today:
Omicron in Chicago and Illinois: What We Know About City's First Case of New Variant
Illinois' first confirmed case of the omicron variant was announced Tuesday after being identified in a Chicago resident.
How was the resident exposed and what do we know so far about the case?
Illinois' First Case of Omicron Variant Reported in Chicago Resident: Officials
Health officials in Illinois reported the state's first case of the omicron variant in a Chicago resident Tuesday.
The case was reported in a fully vaccinated city resident who had also received a booster dose but was visited by an out-of-state traveler who also tested positive for the variant. The resident did not require hospitalization, is improving and has been self-isolating since their symptoms began, officials said.
“While unsurprising, this news should remind Chicagoans of the ongoing threat from COVID-19, especially as families prepare to come together over the holidays,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a statement. “We know how to slow the spread of this virus: get vaccinated, get boosted, get tested if you have symptoms or have been in contact with someone with COVID-19, and stay away from others if you test positive. Wear a mask indoors, avoid poorly ventilated spaces, practice social distancing, and wash your hands.”
Health officials had been preparing for the variant to be detected in both the city and state this week.
Chicago Could Start Requiring Proof of COVID Vaccination in Public Places, City's Top Doc Says
As the highly mutated omicron COVID-19 variant continues to spread across the U.S., Chicago health officials say the city could start requiring proof of vaccination status in public places.
In a Facebook Live event Tuesday, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said some private establishments have already begun requiring proof of vaccination, and the city may follow.
"Might we begin requiring proof of vaccination for more activities in public spaces? Yes, I think we might," Arwady said. "I certainly am more interested in that than I am in needing to do some of the major shut downs."
Read more here.
What to Expect Once Omicron Variant is Detected in Chicago, According to City's Top Doc
Chicago health officials are expecting the new omicron variant to be detected in the city or in Illinois in the coming days, so what will happen then?
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady laid out the city's plan during a Facebook Live Tuesday saying the city is "well placed to detect omicron and will soon" but "the question is our response."
Read more here.
Omicron Variant Could Be Detected in Chicago 'In Next Day or Two': Arwady
Chicago health officials are already tracking people with known exposures to cases of the omicron variant and expect to detect the variant in the city or in Illinois in "the next day or two, realistically."
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said test results are currently pending for city residents who are known contacts of out-of-state or out-of-country omicron variant cases.
"We are following multiple individuals who we know had exposures, whether they were traveling in the U.S. or even internationally, and we have a pretty robust way to share information in a way to protect privacy, but allow us to do case investigation or contact tracing, including over state boundaries," she said.
Read more here.
2 States, DC Added Back Onto Chicago Travel Advisory as Cases Rise
Two states and the District of Columbia were added back onto Chicago's travel advisory Tuesday, bringing the number of states on the city's warning list to 40 states in the weeks following the Thanksgiving holiday.
Tennessee, North Carolina and D.C. were all added back onto the advisory this week, the city's health department announced, but no states were removed.
As of Tuesday, every state or territory except for Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas, and the Virgin Islands are on the advisory.
Read more here.
Illinois State Rep. Introduces Bill Requiring Unvaccinated Residents to Pay For Their Own COVID Care
An Illinois Democratic lawmaker has introduced legislation that would require individuals who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 to pay for their own medical expenses, including hospital bills, if they contract the virus.
State Rep. Jonathon Carroll filed HB 4259 on Monday in Springfield. The legislation would impact those residents who choose not to receive COVID-19 vaccines, and would require them to cover medical costs associated with contracting the virus, even if they have health insurance.
Carroll says that the bill would serve as an incentive to residents to get vaccinated, and would help curb the spread of the virus in Illinois.
“If you get life insurance and you’re a smoker, you pay a higher premium than those who don’t,” he said. “The insurance companies have things like this built-in already.
Read more here.
Will New York City's Private Sector COVID Vaccine Mandate Come to Chicago?
As the city of New York prepares to implement the most far-reaching COVID vaccine mandate in the country, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says that her administration has no plans of enacting a similar requirement in the city.
The new mandate, which will require all private employers in New York City to institute vaccine requirements for their employees, will go into effect later this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.
“We in New York City have decided to use a preemptive strike to really do something bold to stop the further growth of COVID and the dangers it’s causing to all of us,” he said.
During a press availability Monday, Lightfoot said that she does not anticipate putting a similar mandate into effect in Chicago, saying that there are real questions over whether such a requirement would pass judicial scrutiny.
Read more here.
What are the Side Effects of the Pfizer, Moderna COVID Booster Shots?
With the emergence of the rapidly spreading omicron variant, COVID-19 booster shots are now strongly recommended by not only Chicago and Illinois health officials, but by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as well.
"Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot ... when they are six months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in November.
"The recent emergence of the omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19," she added.
The World Health Organization echoes that sentiment, saying the omicron variant is highly contagious, and that "preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection."
Here's what the CDC says about side effects of each booster shot currently available.
Where in the Midwest has the Omicron COVID Variant Been Detected?
As of Dec. 6, the rapidly spreading omicron variant has been detected in more than a dozen states across the country, including four in the Midwest.
While it has not yet been detected in Illinois, Chicago health officials said Sunday the omicron COVID-19 variant, labeled a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization, will likely be detected in the city “within a number of days.”
"We have not yet detected the omicron variant here in Chicago or here in Illinois," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. "But I do expect that to happen likely within a number of days. There are multiple examples of case investigation going on right now, where we know that there are people who have been exposed to the omicron variant, that we are doing aggressive case investigation, testing and contact tracing on."
Based on the latest data, Arwady said omicron appears to be twice as contagious the delta COVID variant, which is already causing a surge throughout Chicago and much of the Midwest.
COVID by the Numbers: 8,700 New Cases Reported in Illinois Monday as Hospitalizations Rise
The number of COVID cases in the state of Illinois continued its steady upward trend on Monday, with 8,700 new cases of the virus reported over the last 24 hours.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the state’s number of new COVID cases per day has continued to rise rapidly following the Thanksgiving holiday. On average, the state is seeing 7,146 new cases of COVID per day, the highest the average has risen since Dec. 20, 2020.
On Saturday, the state reported 6,374 new probable and confirmed cases of the virus, with another 4,036 cases reported on Sunday.
Those new case numbers are also coinciding with increased testing across the state, with Illinois reporting more new COVID tests per day than it has at any point during the pandemic. On Thursday, the state set a new record by reporting 231,876 new COVID test results, and while ensuing days have fallen short of that mark, they are still at high levels, with 148,527 results returned on Monday alone.
Read more here.
How to Add Your Vaccine Card to Your iPhone's Apple Wallet
More than 17.5 million vaccine doses have been administered in Illinois. And as some businesses, music venues and restaurants are shifting to requiring proof of vaccination for entry, what's the easiest and quickest way you can access your vaccine card?
If you have an iPhone, one way to do so is by adding your vaccine card to your Apple wallet.
At-Home COVID Tests: How Accurate Are They? And How Can You Get a Free One?
Free, in-person COVID-19 testing is available across the state. But many are opting for the convenience of at-home COVID tests.
However, concerns were sparked after some tests were recalled due to false-positive results — and some tests are more expensive than others (some, though, are an eligible expense for flexible savings accounts and health savings accounts).
Last week, President Biden detailed a new COVID mitigation plan requiring private insurers to cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests — and make them completely free.
So how can you get a free at-home COVID test? And how accurate are they?
Can you take Tylenol or Ibuprofen After Getting a COVID Booster? What About Drinking Alcohol? Here's What a Doctor Says
Patients have been asking about whether or not they can consume alcoholic beverages after receiving their COVID-19 vaccine since the onset of the pandemic.
The answer, according to an Illinois doctor with Cook County Health, is yes, but there's a catch.
"It's a great question. The simple, short answer is yes," Dr. Mark Loafman, chair of family and community medicine for Cook County Health, told NBC Chicago in May. "There's no prohibition against drinking alcohol. It wasn't specifically studied and there's an assumption that some, you know, an average number of people in the study did use alcohol during the study, but it wasn't specifically measured."
As for over-the-counter medications, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people talk to their doctors about taking over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin, or antihistamines, for any pain and discomfort after getting vaccinated.
According to the CDC, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson COVID boosters are the same dosage as the first round of shots. Moderna, however, is half the dose of the vaccine used in the initial series.
The CDC does not recommend, however, that people take such over-the-counter medications or antihistamines to prevent side effects prior to receiving the coronavirus vaccine or booster shot.
Prior COVID Infection Does Not Protect Patients from Omicron Variant, Chicago-Area Doctor Says
As the COVID-19 omicron variant continues to pop up across the U.S., health officials are working to determine whether a prior coronavirus infection or vaccine series will protect from the virus.
Dr. Richard Novak, Chief of Infectious Diseases at the University of Illinois at Chicago, warned that people who contracted COVID in the past are likely not protected from the omicron variant.
"New reports from south Africa today suggest prior infection provides no protection from this variant," Novak said. "It is able to evade the immune response."
Because antibodies created from the coronavirus may not protect people, Novak, along with other health officials are urging vaccinations.
"I think this is a wake up call for people to get vaccine and for those who are vaccinated to get their boosters," Novak said. "I think this is evidence the virus will be with us for a while or be part of the fabric of our society and we will have to continue to fight to stay one step ahead of it."
Though officials are not certain how much protection the vaccines provide against the virus, Novak said people vaccinated against COVID have experienced a milder case than those unvaccinated.
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