Chicago has detected its first omicron variant case, so could restrictions or vaccination requirements be on the horizon?
Here's what you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic across Illinois today:
Pfizer Says Early Data Shows Booster Dose of Vaccine Protects Against Omicron Variant
A booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide strong protection against the omicron variant, the companies announced Wednesday.
They said a third dose of their vaccine provides a similar level of neutralizing antibodies to omicron, comparable to two doses against the original coronavirus and other variants that have emerged.
Blood samples from those who received only the primary series of the vaccine, on average, did see a 25-fold drop in antibodies against the new variant, indicating that two doses of the vaccine may not be sufficient to protect against infection with omicron.
The companies said the results are preliminary. The findings were detailed in a press release, and the full data have not yet been made available for other scientists to scrutinize.
Read more here.
What to Expect Now That Omicron Variant is in Chicago, According to City's Top Doc
Chicago health officials announced the city's first confirmed case of the omicron variant Tuesday, so what could that mean for residents and what could happen next?
Just before the announcement of the variant's first city case, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady laid out the city's plan during a Facebook Live saying the question was not when the variant would be detected, but rather "the question is our response."
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.
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.
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.
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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