Free N95 masks are now expected to be offered at a number of major pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS to end the work week.
This comes as Chicago launches new COVID testing sites for residents.
Here's what you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic across Illinois today:
Residents in These Illinois ZIP Codes Can Get Free At-Home COVID Tests From IDPH
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In 14 Illinois counties, thousands of at-home, rapid COVID tests are being made available for free, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced Friday.
According to the department, 225,000 test kits are being made available through Project Access COVID Tests to residents in certain zip codes.
Residents in the eligible communities can order the tests via AccessCovidTests.org, where they can sign up for a free home delivery. Each household will then receive five tests, or one kit, within two weeks of ordering. Shipping is free, IDPH noted.
List of eligible ZIP codes here.
Coronavirus in Illinois: 123K New Cases, 843 Deaths in Last Week as Cases Drop, Deaths Rise
Illinois health officials reported 123,812 new COVID-19 cases over the past week, along with 843 additional deaths and over 310,000 new vaccine doses administered, marking yet another drop in cases but a rise in deaths from the previous week.
Last week, the state reported 183,722 new cases and 746 deaths.
The drop in cases comes after state officials report the omicron peak has been reached, particularly surrounding hospitalizations.
Read more here.
Walgreens Begins Distributing Free N95 Masks. Where to Get Them in the Chicago Area
Walgreens on Friday announced it has started distributing its first wave of free N95 masks from the government, but the locations where you can get them so far is limited.
In the Chicago area, two stores were on the initial list of locations, but the Illinois-based pharmacy chain said more will be coming soon.
"Masks have begun to rollout to the first wave of stores and will continue to rollout into additional stores in the coming days and weeks," the company said in a statement. "We anticipate all participating stores will receive supply by mid-February."
Couple Hospitalized With COVID Spends Final Moments Hand-in-Hand
After spending 64 years together, David and Sondra Zorn were able to spend their final moments hospitalized with COVID-19 hand-in-hand.
David, 89, and Sondra, 83, died days apart earlier this month after being taken to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital for complications from the coronavirus, the family said.
The couple's daughter, Deanna Wilkins, said that though the family is devastated by the loss, there is comfort in knowing that David and Sondra "were put in the same room and held hands in their final moments."
“It’s a story of love; it’s a story of commitment; it’s a story of how everyone at the hospital went above and beyond,” Wilkins said.
Read their full story here.
COVID by the Numbers: New Cases, Hospitalizations Down by More Than 30% in Last 2 Weeks
New COVID cases and hospitalizations continued their recent downward trends on Thursday, as health officials reported more than 14,000 new cases of the virus.
According to the latest data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, a total of 14,422 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases were reported statewide in the last 24 hours.
The state’s daily average of new COVID cases over the last week fell to 21,286 on Thursday, the lowest it has been since Jan. 1. The average number of daily cases, which peaked at 32,501 on Jan. 12, has decreased by 34.5% in that time.
More Illinois COVID data here.
Walgreens, CVS Begin Offering Free N95 Masks at Some Illinois Stores, With More on the Way
Walgreens and CVS are starting to distribute free N95 masks from the government to area residents Thursday and Friday, while other Illinois stores and pharmacies have already begun.
According to CVS Health, some locations expect to receive mask shipments Thursday, with more arriving on a rolling basis as supplies become available.
"Inventory is expected to begin to arrive at these locations as early as Thursday, January 27 and will continue arriving on a rolling basis as additional supply becomes available," the company told NBC 5 in a statement. "Masks are limited to three per person, while supplies last, and signs will be posted to indicate N95 mask availability."
Read more here.
Is 'Stealth Omicron' a New COVID Variant? Here's What Experts Say
With experts around the globe now talking about a so-called "stealth omicron" variant, many are wondering what exactly is it and is it a new COVID variant?
Chicago's top doctor said "stealth omicron," also known as BA.2, is not technically a new COVID variant, and has not yet been classified as a variant of interest or concern by international authorities. It's actually a subvariant or sub-type of the omicron variant.
"It's still omicron," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Tuesday. "It's just... sort of certain letters point one versus certain letters point two. It's a slight variation in terms of what is being picked up, but I want to be really clear it has not even been classified as a variant of interest yet... this isn't even a new variant, it's just considered a slightly different flavor of the kernel and we've seen that before."
Read more here.
2 More COVID Testing Companies Under Investigation in Illinois
Two Chicago-based COVID-19 testing companies are now under investigation by Illinois' health department and the Illinois Attorney General's office.
O'Hare Clinical Lab, which has more than 100 testing centers nationwide, is among those under investigation by state agencies after complaints alleged people received incorrect or delayed test results.
The Illinois Attorney General's office confirmed it has received "more than 30 complaints regarding O’Hare Clinical Lab and are in contact with those consumers to get more information."
In addition, Northshore Clinical Laboratories is also under investigation by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
In a message on its website, Northshore Clinical Labs said it has "terminated all third-party operation of COVID-19 testing pop-up sites, while we focus on improving processing and PCR result times during this period of extraordinarily high demand."
Read more here.
Chicago Adds New COVID Testing Sites
In what it says was a "response to the omicron surge," the Chicago Department of Public Health announced Thursday that it has recently opened three new community-based testing sites in partnership with SHIELD Illinois, which conducts saliva-based tests. The new locations include:
o DePaul University, 333 S State St., concourse level, 4 p.m. -7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday
o Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 N St Louis Ave., Building E, across from the Welcome Desk (Space previously occupied by the bookstore in the Student Union), 9 a.m.-noon Mondays and Wednesdays, 2 p.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays
o Dirksen Federal Building, 219 S. Dearborn St, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday through Friday
Appointments are required and no walk ins are allowed. You can register here and use agency code: df5brbrj.
How Long Are You Contagious With Omicron COVID Infection? Here's What We Know
As omicron cases continue to spread throughout Chicago and Illinois, people are asking how long they'll be contagious after contracting COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance last month, shifting the timing for isolation and quarantine as some experts say the time frame when people are most contagious is earlier.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said the changes from the CDC come as "the omicron variant continues to spread throughout the U.S. and reflects the current science on when and for how long a person is most infectious."
So what is the period where someone with COVID is most contagious?
'Stealth Omicron': What is It, Where Has it Been Detected and Should You Be Worried?
A version of the omicron variant dubbed "stealth omicron" is being monitored by scientists and health experts around the world as it has been detected in more than 40 countries, but what is it and what does it mean for the pandemic?
This version of the coronavirus, which scientists call BA.2, is widely considered stealthier than the original version of omicron because particular genetic traits make it somewhat harder to detect. Some scientists worry it could also be more contagious.
But they say there’s a lot they still don’t know about it, including whether it evades vaccines better or causes more severe disease.
Chicago's top doctor said the city is "keeping an eye on" the omicron subtype.
"There's nothing that we've seen at this point that is raising a high level of concern but please rest assured we're watching it and we'll let you know if there's anything to be interested or concerned about," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Tuesday.
Free COVID Tests From the Government Now Being Mailed. Here's How to Get Yours
One week after the government launched its new website for Americans to get free COVID tests sent to their homes, some who placed early orders have reported deliveries are being made.
Some on social media reported receiving their tests in the mail already by Tuesday while others received emailed delivery updates saying their orders were expected to arrive later this week.
KN95, N95 and More: A Look at the Different Masks and What You Should Know About Each
KN95s, N95s, cloth, surgical and more - there are a lot of options when it comes to wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic.
With pharmacies across the country preparing to distribute free N95 masks as part of a new government effort, what should you know about the different kinds of masks and how to properly use them?