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Illinois Coronavirus Updates: New Omicron COVID Variant, Travel Restrictions

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A new COVID variant has sparked global concerns and travel restrictions, but what could it mean in the U.S. and Chicago?

Plus, what should you know about COVID testing after Thanksgiving holiday gatherings?

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

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.

Watch Live: President Biden to Address Omicron Variant

President Joe Biden is scheduled to make remarks on Omicron, the new COVID variant of concern.

NBC News will offer a special report of the address beginning at 10:45 a.m. CT. Watch live in the player above.

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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