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On New Year’s Eve, don’t invite Omicron and Delta to the party

To stay safe, everyone’s best bet is to stay home and pop the champagne with members of our households.

A woman receives her booster shot at a vaccination event in Belmont Cragin.
A woman receives her booster shot at a vaccination event in Belmont Cragin on Dec. 11.
Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo

No matter how relieved you may be to bid adieu to 2021, this is no time to celebrate at a large New Year’s Eve gathering.

Because, as Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said this week, “Every single event being held during this holiday season will have one or two uninvited, unwanted guests, Delta and or Omicron.”

To avoid the unwanted viral guests, this is the year to be extra safe by staying in and popping the champagne with other members of your household. Or, maybe bundle up and venture outdoors — where the virus is less likely to spread — to watch the city’s huge planned fireworks display.

Undoubtedly, some folks will take their chances. They will throw caution to the wind and host or attend a big indoor soiree, heedless of the risk.

If so, we just hope everyone at that party is vaccinated.

Because the chances of avoiding COVID-19 are growing smaller by the day, as Illinois and other states continue to shatter records for new infections. More troubling, hospitalizations are rising too, which puts additional strain on already-overburdened health care workers and hospitals.

On Monday, Ezike and Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned Illinoisans about the threat still posed by COVID-19, almost two years into the pandemic. The numbers reported as of last Friday — a day before Christmas — were eyebrow-raising: More than 21,000 new cases — the highest recent surge ever in the past two years, Ezike said.

Hospitals are coping with an influx of the overwhelmingly unvaccinated. At Franciscan Health South Suburban, COVID-19 cases rose from 10% of patients to more than 40% in three weeks. Advocate, the state’s largest hospital chain, now has 675 COVID-19 patients, up from 270 a month ago.

The state is taking another needed step to expand vaccine availability — and eliminate excuses by the hesitant — by increasing the number of vaccination sites, including mobile sites.

Let’s hope more folks who have so far resisted the pleas of experts — and perhaps friends and family — will finally see the light.

Prolonging, not slowing down, the pandemic

Currently, 68% of eligible Illinois residents — those 5 years of age and older — have been fully vaccinated, and 76% have received at least one vaccine dose, IDPH data show. Yet in some counties, especially in southern and western Illinois, vaccination rates remain low, often hovering between 30% to 45%. Even in nearby Kankakee County, just 47% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Here in Chicago, full vaccination rates in some neighborhoods, particularly on the South Side, hover at around 50%, compared with rates approaching 80% and higher elsewhere, city data show.

All told, these numbers are a prescription for prolonging, not slowing down, this pandemic.

No one can expect COVID-19 to simply disappear, especially as the more-contagious Omicron variant continues to spread. But vaccination greatly helps, especially in preventing hospitalizations that are a strain on patients, families and health care providers. Not to mention as other people who need non-COVID-related care but cannot get it because doctors, nurses and hospitals are strained to the breaking point.

In the end, hospitalizations are a drain on all of us. Preventable hospitalizations of the unvaccinated cost the U.S. $13.8 billion between June and November, according to a new analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This editorial board regularly receives letters from readers who chastise us for repeatedly pushing vaccination — including mandates, which we believe are necessary to end this public health crisis.

We’re not budging on this front. Everyone who is medically able to be vaccinated should be, period.

To that end, we want to give a well-deserved shout-out to community groups here in Chicago that have stepped up to promote vaccination and break through hesitance among their friends and neighbors. These grassroots groups, as the Sun-Times’ Brett Chase and Cheyanne M. Daniels reported recently, are best equipped to cut through the misinformation, mistrust and other factors that contribute to low vaccination rates.

“No one is going to listen to you unless you’re a trusted messenger,” as Ciara Stanton of the Chicagoland Vaccine Partnership, a nonprofit that coordinates funding for these groups, told the Sun-Times.

Kudos to them. Sooner or later, their work will save lives.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com