Omicron has officially arrived in Chicago.
Public health officials announced Tuesday that the latest “variety of concern” of COVID-19 was detected in a fully vaccinated Chicago resident who had received a booster dose. That person had been in contact with a visitor to the city who contracted Omicron.
The infected Chicagoan “does not need hospitalization, is improving and isolating themselves since the onset of their symptoms,” officials from the Illinois and Chicago public health departments said in a joint statement. Further contact tracing is underway.
“While not surprising, this news should remind Chicagoans of the ongoing threat of COVID-19, especially as families prepare to gather over the holidays,” said Chicago Public Health Director Dr. Allison Arwady in a statement.
“We know how to slow the spread of this virus: get vaccinated, get a boost, 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. test.”
Since Omicron was designated a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization the day after Thanksgiving, it has cropped up in dozens of countries and at least 17 other states.
Local officials agree that Omicron has likely been circulating in Illinois for at least a few weeks before it was detected through genomic sequencing, a process that involves analyzing the genetic structure of COVID-19 test samples.
While early evidence suggests that Omicron could be more contagious than previous variants — with a higher chance of reinfecting people who’ve already passed through a case of COVID-19 — experts are still trying to get the key facts about it.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say Omicron “will likely spread more easily” than previous versions of the virus, but it’s not yet clear how it compares to the Delta variant — which still wreaks havoc on unvaccinated people. communities in Illinois and beyond. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are at some of the highest levels since last winter in Illinois.
The CDC still says that “current vaccines are expected to protect against serious disease” with the new variant. And while some existing COVID-19 treatments on Omicron are expected to work, “others may be less effective,” according to the CDC.
The bottom line: Get vaccinated and wear masks in indoor public areas, officials say.
“While we don’t have all the answers right now, we know that the general prevention strategies we’ve recommended — vaccination, boosters, masking, testing, physical distancing — are our best protection against the virus and its variants,” Illinois Public Health Director Dr. . Ngozi Ezike said in a statement.
During an online Q&A hours before Chicago’s first Omicron case was confirmed, Arwady said the city may consider tightening vaccination requirements in response to a surge in cases that showed no signs of slowing even before the new ones. variant was discovered.
“Can we start demanding a vaccination certificate for more activities and public spaces? Yes, I think we can. I’m definitely more interested in that than having to do some of the big shutdowns [like last year]’ said Arwady.
“Theatres and many other spaces are already doing this [requiring proof of vaccination], but it’s definitely something that … as this increase continues, perhaps with a new variant, we can do more of it.”
Gov. JB Pritzker said the state is trying to increase staffing levels in hospitals in anticipation of a possible Omicron spike.
“I’m hopeful that what is now a wave of Delta variant filling our hospitals will diminish over time and that we can make it through Omicron, which seems to be a little less virulent so far,” said Pritzker Tuesday. at a press conference before the variant was confirmed in Chicago. “I want to encourage everyone: please get vaccinated. That ultimately ensures that you do not go to the hospital.”
The vaccines are available for free from pharmacies across the country. The city also offers free home vaccination appointments. For more information, visit chicago.gov/covidvax or call (312) 746-4835.