Chicago's top doctor gives insight into the future of vaccine and mask mandates across the city.
Meanwhile, scientists are finding out more about the BA.2 omicron subvariant, often called "stealth omicron," which has been detected in Illinois.
Here's what you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic across Illinois today:
Chicago's Top Doc Says City is Taking Patient Approach to Mask, Vaccine Mandates as Cases Dip
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With coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continuing a rapid decline after a peak in the omicron variant, the commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Public Health says that she hopes that mask and vaccine mandates could be lifted, but cautioned that doing so too early would set back efforts to combat the virus.
During a press conference on Tuesday, Dr. Allison Arwady said that the city has seen its positivity rate and hospitalizations drop significantly in recent weeks, and that she is heartened by the emerging data.
“Things are looking quite good,” she said.
According to Arwady, the city’s positivity rate on COVID tests is now down to 4.5%, the lowest of any of Illinois’ 11 health care regions. On New Year’s Eve, that positivity rate peaked at 20.5%.
Even still, Arwady says that lifting the mask and vaccine mandates in the city is something that she wants to do, but also wants to exercise patience in doing because of fears of a rebound in the number of cases with so many people still gathering indoors.
Read more here.
COVID by the Numbers: Cases, Hospitalizations Continue Rapid Declines as Omicron Peak Passes
The state of Illinois reported its fewest new COVID cases in more than a month as metrics continue to plummet in several key areas.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the state reported 6,654 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID in the last 24 hours, the lowest single-day number of cases reported since Dec. 13.
The state is now averaging 11,873 new cases of COVID per day, continuing a dramatic decline in that number. According to IDPH data, that number marks a decline of 63.5% in new daily cases since the Illinois peaked on Jan. 12, and the average number is the lowest it has been since Dec. 21.
Officials are also reporting a slow decline in the number of deaths the state has seen due to COVID, with 28 new fatalities reported in the last 24 hours. The state is now averaging 108 fatalities per day due to the virus.
Finally, hospitalizations are continuing to decline quickly, with 3,870 hospitalized patients currently positive for COVID in the state. That is the lowest number since December, with a decline of 47.6% in hospitalizations in just the last two weeks.
Read more here.
Illinois COVID Metrics: Trends in Each of the State's 11 Health Care Regions
The state of Illinois is reporting decreases in COVID cases, positivity rates and hospitalizations in recent weeks, and those trends are becoming more apparent at the regional level as well.
According to data published Monday by the Illinois Department of Public Health, the most rapid decreases in COVID metrics are occurring in Chicago and suburban Cook County, areas where the omicron variant first rapidly spread.
In Cook County, the positivity rate has plunged from 14% on Jan. 21 to 6.9% on Jan. 28, coinciding with a rapid decrease in hospitalizations related to COVID-19.
The city of Chicago has seen a similar decline, falling from 11.9% on Jan. 21 to just 4.8% on Jan. 28, by far the lowest number in the state.
More Details on Version of COVID Variant Now Found in Illinois, Wisconsin
A version of the omicron variant dubbed "stealth omicron" is being monitored by scientists and health experts around the world, and has now been detected in both Illinois and in Wisconsin, according to health officials.
According to officials at Northwestern University, the first case of the BA.2 omicron subvariant was detected in Illinois Monday. The first case in Wisconsin was also reported on Monday, according to Milwaukee County health officials.
This version of the coronavirus is widely considered stealthier than the original version of omicron because particular genetic traits make it somewhat harder to detect on PCR tests.
Read more here.
Illinois Reports First Case of ‘Stealth Omicron' Subvariant BA.2
The first case of the BA.2 omicron subvariant, often called "stealth omicron," has been detected in Illinois, Northwestern University officials said Monday.
The case was discovered by Northwestern Medicine’s Center for Pathogen Genomics and Microbial Evolution (CPGME) over the weekend, according to a news release from university officials.
The individual who contracted the variant was tested for COVID-19 on Jan. 18, however additional information about the person, including where in Illinois they're located, wasn't available. It isn't the first case to be detected in the Midwest as a Milwaukee County health official said Monday the subvariant had also been reported in Wisconsin.
Read more here.
Chicago Public Schools Shorten Isolation and Quarantine for Students and Staff
Chicago Public Schools will reduce its recommended quarantine and isolation periods beginning Tuesday in alignment with current COVID-19 guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Children and staff members who test positive regardless of their vaccination status will need to isolate for five days rather than the previously advised 10 days, according to CPS and health officials.
According to CPS, the shift to a five-day quarantine will impact students differently depending on their vaccination status, symptoms and whether an infection has been confirmed.
Read more here.
Free COVID Test Kits: How Illinois Residents Can Get Them and Where
There are now multiple ways some Illinois residents can order free COVID test kits, but your options depend on where you live as new state and federal programs begin.
In certain ZIP codes in 14 Illinois counties, thousands of at-home, rapid COVID tests are being made available for free, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced last week.
That's on top of a government program that launched earlier this month for all Americans.
USPS Free COVID Tests: How to Order, When to Expect Shipments and More
The United States Postal Service released an update last week regarding free COVID tests as deliveries continued to arrive at homes nationwide.
“The United States Postal Service is proud to fulfill its mission of service to the nation by delivering COVID test kits as part of this important public health initiative of the Biden Administration," Postmaster General and CEO Louis DeJoy said in a statement Friday.
The website to order the free tests for your household launched earlier this month, with some beginning to arrive earlier last week.
Internal Docs Show Path to Controversial COVID Testing Company's Quick Rise
It has been a rough week for pop-up COVID testing companies as state and federal investigations heat up on some of its major players. An industry that cropped up fast may be suffering a similarly rapid end.
Center for COVID Control, the Rolling Meadows-based testing company that managed hundreds of testing sites and is now the source of many federal and state probes, may be closing.
The company’s owners told employees in a Thursday night video conference, according to a news report by Block Club Chicago.
A statement to NBC 5 Responds didn't go that far, saying it will suspend operations indefinitely.
Read more here.
Incubation Period: How Long Should You Quarantine With a COVID Infection?
As coronavirus cases continue to spread throughout Chicago and Illinois and officials update incubation period guidance, how long should you quarantine with an infection?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently changed its guidance, shifting the timing for isolation and quarantine as some experts say the time frame when people are most contagious is earlier.
Residents in These Illinois ZIP Codes Can Get Free At-Home COVID Tests From IDPH
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.
Downstate Illinois Judge Considers Request to Remove Mask Mandate in Schools
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."
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.