Cook County health officials warned Friday that "suspected cases of the omicron variant are rising... and are likely to escalate quickly," prompting them to issue new mitigation recommendations in Chicago's suburbs.
The county said that while the delta variant remains the prominent variant, case counts, case rates, test positivity, hospitalizations and deaths "are all increasing."
"CCDPH is issuing Increased mitigation practices for individuals and businesses," the county health department said in a release. "CCDPH urges suburban Cook County residents to follow them to slow the spread of COVID-19. We must continue to work together to keep each other healthy and to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system."
The first confirmed omicron variant case in suburban Cook County was reported earlier this week in an asymptomatic person who was fully vaccinated, though it remains unclear if the person had received a booster shot.
Additional cases were expected as officials said there were other cases "being genotyped for omicron."
Now, with the holidays approaching, area health officials are urging the public and businesses to follow the following mitigations:
VACCINATION and BOOSTERS:
- If you are fully vaccinated, get your booster once you are eligible.
- Two dose vaccines – at least 6 months post your second dose (16 years and older)
- One-dose vaccines – at least 2 months post your original dose (18 years and older)
- If you are not vaccinated, please get vaccinated. Vaccination against COVID-19 will protect against severe disease and death, even with the emergence of the omicron variant. Initial data indicates that boosters are especially important now, to provide extra protection against this new variant. Boosters are available for all adults, and for people 16 years and older with the Pfizer vaccine.
- If you are not fully vaccinated, please do not gather indoors with others outside your household.
- Anyone wishing to celebrate the season with others is strongly urged to get a COVID test 2-3 days before the event, and to test again the morning of the event. Stay home if you have a positive test and follow CDC isolation guidance.
- Wear masks to protect yourself and others.
- Workplaces are strongly urged to hold virtual holiday gatherings to avoid large groups of congregating employees.
- Establishments are urged to require patrons to be fully vaccinated for entry, and/or provide proof of a negative COVID test within 24 hours of entry.
- Large gatherings are defined by the CDC as those where many people from multiple households meet. Large events include conferences, trade shows, sporting events, festivals, concerts, or large weddings and parties.
- Masking requirements are still in effect for indoor spaces and activities. All people age 2 years old and older who can medically tolerate it must wear a mask in indoor public settings.
Health officials in Illinois reported the state's first case of the omicron variant in a Chicago resident last week.
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.”
The recommendations from Cook County come as metrics rise across the state.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike warned Friday that "this is setting up to be a very deadly COVID Christmas and New Years" as she delivered an address about rising metrics in one state health care region.
"Hospital bed availability has reached a critically low level, demand on resources is high and the wait times in local emergency departments are very long," Ezike said in her address to Region 1, which encompasses several counties surrounding the Rockford area.
Illinois on Thursday reported nearly 12,000 new cases of coronavirus in the previous 24 hours, the largest single-day increase in new cases in more than a year.
According to the latest figures from IDPH, the state recorded 11,858 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 during that time. That number is the largest the state has seen in a single day since Dec. 1, 2020, when 12,542 new cases were reported to state health agencies.
The previous high watermark for 2021 had been set just two weeks ago, when 11,524 new cases were reported on Dec. 2.
The state also hit another inauspicious milestone on Thursday, as it is now averaging more than 8,000 new cases of the virus per day over the last week. That marks the first time the state has seen that number of new cases since Dec. 15, 2020, according to IDPH data.
On Friday, state health officials reported 59,312 new COVID-19 cases over the past week, along with 316 additional deaths and over 467,000 new vaccine doses administered. The new cases and deaths mark a continued increase over the last several weeks following the Thanksgiving holiday.
Ezike said that there are no current plans to increase such mitigations statewide, though Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has encouraged local health authorities to evaluate the needs on a region-by-region basis.
"Last year is when the vaccines first were administered in our state. We were hoping to be in a completely different place," Ezike said. "So there are no plans at this time to institute additional measures similar to what we saw, you know, last year, but we continue to have the indoor mask mandate as a simple but effective measure that can actually help slow transmission. And of course, we are continuing to work to make vaccines and the booster shots readily available to everyone who makes Illinois home."