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Illinois Coronavirus Updates: New Booster Shot Guidance, Omicron Variant Symptoms

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New guidance has been issued surrounding booster shots of the coronavirus vaccines as the new omicron COVID variant sparks global concerns.

Plus, which symptoms should you watch for with the new variant? Doctors weigh in.

Here's what you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic across Illinois today:

'Midwest Is the Current COVID Hot Spot,' According to Dr. Allison Arwady

Cases are rising in several Midwest states as temperatures cool and people head inside this winter, making the area the "current COVID hot spot," according to Chicago's top doctor.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady noted Tuesday that Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin "currently have the highest rates of COVID-19 in the country per capita."

“The Midwest is the current COVID hot spot as temperatures drop and people spend more time inside, so please protect yourself and get vaccinated," Arwady said in a statement.

Read more here.

2 States, 1 Territory Removed From Chicago Travel Advisory After Thanksgiving Holiday

Two states and one territory were removed from Chicago's travel advisory Tuesday, bringing the number of states on the city's warning list to 38 states following the Thanksgiving holiday.

California, Guam, and North Carolina were all removed from the advisory this week, the city's health department announced, but no new states were added back on.

As of Tuesday, every state or territory except for Alabama, California, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and the Virgin Islands are on the advisory.  

Maryland, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Washington could be removed from the travel advisory next week if their COVID rates remain below the city's threshold.

Read more here.

Watch Live: Chicago's Top Doctor to Talk Omicron Variant, Give COVID Update at 1 p.m.

Chicago's top doctor is expected to address the city Tuesday to give an update on the pandemic and discuss the new omicron COVID variant sparking global concerns.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady is expected to speak at 1 p.m. from City Hall, alongside CDPH Medical Director Dr. Geraldine Luna and Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez.

The press conference will be held to "provide an update on COVID-19 in the community and schools, present the latest data and discuss pandemic issues including what we know of the omicron variant," according to a release.

Watch it live here.

Omicron Variant: Why Getting a COVID Test Won't Tell You Which Variant You May Have

Getting tested for coronavirus won't tell you whether or not you have the new omicron variant. The process to determine the variant, experts say, is more complicated than that.

"When you get a COVID test they're just looking for whether or not you have COVID," said Dr. Emily Landon, infectious disease specialist and chief hospital epidemiologist at University of Chicago Medicine. "They're not on which kind of in order to figure out the exact strain of COVID. You have to do this thing called sequencing, which takes a lot longer. It's much more intensive. You certainly can't get that back in 24 hours, and it's only done by specialized labs."

Still, doctors say the best way to determine if you have any form of COVID is to get tested.

Read more here.

Pfizer to Seek Approval for COVID Booster for Teens 16 and 17

Pfizer is expected to seek authorization this week for a COVID-19 vaccine booster for teens 16 and 17 years old, a source familiar with the process told NBC News on Monday.

If approved, the additional Pfizer-BioNTech shot would mark the first vaccine booster for teens younger than 18.

The application for regulatory approval from the Food and Drug Administration is expected to come this week, but no timeline was provided for when the department would act.

Read more here.

CDC Strengthens Advice for Boosters as Omicron Variant Spreads Globally

All adults should get COVID-19 booster shots when they're eligible, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday, striking a much stronger tone than its recommendations just a few weeks ago.

The new advice was issued days after the new omicron variant of the coronavirus was detected in southern Africa. The variant's constellation of mutations suggests the virus could evade the immune system or spread more easily than previous variants do, although it will take time to determine its impact.

"Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot ... when they are 6 months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series," the CDC's director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said in a statement. Anyone who got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine shot at least two months ago would also qualify.

Read more here.

Officials: 14 Inmates, 7 Officers Test Positive for COVID at Lake County Jail

Officials at the Lake County Jail in northern Illinois are implementing new safety restrictions after more than a dozen inmates and seven correctional officers tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days.

According to a press release, four inmates and three officers tested positive for the virus over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Following that revelation, additional testing revealed that 10 more inmates tested positive for the virus, along with four additional guards at the facility.

All individuals who tested positive for the virus are experiencing only mild symptoms at this time, and no hospitalizations have been reported, according to officials.

Read more here.

Delta vs. Omicron Variant Symptoms: How New COVID Variant Might Differ From Previous Cases

While scientists and experts are still working to find answers to many unanswered questions surrounding the new omicron COVID variant, some doctors in South Africa who have treated cases said the symptoms appear to differ from what many have come to expect with the delta variant.

As the emergence of the new COVID variant omicron begins to restrict U.S. travel and raises global concerns due to its increased risk of reinfection, scientists and doctors are working to collect data around how and why this variant behaves differently than others.

So what are the symptoms of the new omicron COVID variant and the delta COVID variant?

Though health experts have said it will take weeks to understand how the variant may affect diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, here's what we know so far.

Chicago Officials Release Statement on New Omicron COVID Variant

Chicago officials are preparing for the new omicron COVID variant, though they said there are still many questions to be answered about the emerging variant of concern.

In a statement Monday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the city is "very engaged in the heightened discussions regarding the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus, particularly with our federal partners."

"At this point, there are many questions which scientists across the world, and at the Chicago Department of Public Health, are actively working to address all while closely monitoring this strain," the statement read. "While that work continues, we must as a city, and importantly as individuals, continue to follow the public health guidance: get vaccinated, and if vaccinated, get your booster; wear a mask indoors and when you're around other people; and if you are feeling sick, stay home to save lives. The unvaccinated remain the most at risk to themselves and others so please get vaccinated as soon as possible."

Read more here.

Omicron COVID Variant Symptoms, Cases and More: What We Know So Far

A new variant, named B.1.1.529, was named a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization and given the name “omicron” from the letter in the Greek alphabet.

A new COVID variant dubbed omicron sparked global concerns and travel restrictions for several countries over the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but what makes it so troubling and what symptoms should you watch for?

The global risk of omicron is "very high," the World Health Organization said Monday, as more countries reported cases of the variant that has led to worldwide concern that there is more pandemic suffering ahead.

Here's a breakdown of what we know about the new omicron variant, its symptoms and where cases have been discovered so far.

When Will Illinois' Mask Mandate End? Here's What We Know

Mask requirements have been lifted in dozens of states, causing some to wonder when Illinois will follow suit.

Of the six states where mask mandates remain in effect - Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington - Illinois is the only one east of the Mississippi River.

An analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data showed that of the five aforementioned states excluding Washington, which didn't have data listed, Illinois had the second lowest positivity rate - between 3 and 4.9%.

Read more here.

United Airlines Monitoring Omicron Variant-Driven Restrictions, but Hasn't Adjusted Schedules

Officials with United Airlines say that new travel restrictions imposed on flights to several African nations have not yet led to any adjustments to the airline’s schedule, with the company set to operate new flights to those countries in coming days.

In recent days, President Joe Biden announced new restrictions on travel from several African countries as a result of the emergence of the omicron COVID variant. As of Monday, the U.S. will reinstitute a ban on travel for foreign nationals from a total of eight countries, including South Africa.

United States citizens and lawful permanent residents will be exempt from the Level 4 travel restriction, according to the State Department.

In a statement to NBC 5, United Airlines says that it is monitoring how the new travel restrictions will impact demand for flights, but says that it has not made any adjustments to its schedule.

Read more here.

Chicago-Area Health Officials Watching New Omicron Variant ‘Very Closely'

Chicago health officials say they are keeping a close watch on the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, after a panel of the World Health Organization called the concerning threat "highly transmittable."

Dr. Rachel Rubin, co-lead and senior medical officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health, issued a statement Friday saying officials are unaware whether or not the variant has reached the U.S., but will continue to follow health recommendations.

"We are watching the Omicrom variant very carefully. We don't know if the variant has reached the United States, but given the global concern about the virus, it is more important than ever to continue to follow public health recommendations: Mask Up, Wash Your Hands, Stay Physically Distant, and most importantly, get vaccinated and get your booster as soon as you are eligible. The longer people do not get vaccinated, the risk of deadlier variants increases," Rubin said in a statement.

Read more here.

Omicron: What Is the Difference Between ‘Variant of Interest' Vs. ‘Variant of Concern?'

As the World Health Organization announces that omircon has been classified as a "variant of concern," many are asking about the difference between this categorization and a "variant of interest."

WHO Health Emergencies Programme COVID-19 Technical Lead Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove said early evidence on omicron, known by the technical term B.1.1.529, shows that the variant has a large number of mutations, some of which have concerning characteristics.

Omicron has also shown to have an increased risk of reinfection compared to other highly transmissible variants, indicating that people who contracted COVID and recovered could be more subject to catching it again with this variant.

Read more here.

How Accurate Are At-Home COVID Tests? What to Know After Thanksgiving Gatherings

After spending time close with family and friends at Thanksgiving gatherings this week, more people are searching for ways to easily test for a COVID-19 infection at home.

But how accurate are the at-home coronavirus tests?

There are a number of at-home options now available, the most recent of which received authorization from the Food and Drug Administration last month. Concerns were sparked, however, after some tests were recalled due to false-positive results.

Here's what you should know.

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