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Illinois’ 2nd confirmed Omicron case identified in suburbs

COVID-19’s latest “variant of concern” has likely been in the state for weeks, experts say, and more cases are expected to be confirmed soon.

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered in January at Norwegian American Hospital. Officials are urging more people to get vaccinated and boosted as Omicron arrives.
A COVID-19 vaccine is administered in January at Norwegian American Hospital. Officials are urging more people to get vaccinated and boosted as Omicron arrives.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Illinois’ second confirmed case of COVID-19’s Omicron variant has been found in suburban Cook County, public health officials announced Wednesday.

The infected person, who had received two vaccine doses, wasn’t suffering from any symptoms at the time the variant case was detected Tuesday, according to the Cook County Department of Public Health.

Officials wouldn’t identify the suburb where the case was found, citing the person’s privacy, but it likely won’t be long before Omicron surfaces throughout the Chicago area.

“Omicron is almost certainly going to overtake Delta as the main variant circulating in the United States and then obviously in Illinois. We don’t really know how long that will take,” said Dr. Rachel Rubin, senior medical officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health.

Rubin said an unspecified number of other positive cases have been traced to the suburban Omicron case, and that “a handful” of others are being evaluated to determine if they’re tied to the variant.

Statewide, only a small percentage of positive tests are “genotyped,” or genetically evaluated, each day to determine if they’re variant cases. Experts agree Omicron has likely been lurking in Illinois for weeks, though only two cases have been confirmed so far.

“Throughout the state, there are a variety of suspected cases that are in the process of being verified,” Rubin said.

Last week, a Chicago resident became the state’s first known person to come down with Omicron, which is thought to be more transmissible than previous iterations of the coronavirus.

That Chicagoan — who was fully vaccinated and boosted — suffered mild symptoms but did not require hospitalization. Experts are still researching Omicron, but all the vaccines are expected to continue providing significant protection.

Early research suggests it causes “a milder form of COVID,” but based on its exponential spread through Europe and Africa, it could pose the latest threat to a health care system that has been stretched thin for almost two years now, Rubin said.

“The best way to combat that is to have both vaccinations or the first one of Johnson and Johnson plus a booster once you are eligible for a booster,” she said.

Cases have been surging in Illinois and across the Midwest since late October, with the Delta variant remaining dominant. The state has averaged more than 7,600 new cases per day over the last week, and more than 3,600 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized as of Tuesday night — with both figures marking the worst levels seen in Illinois in nearly a year.

About 75% of eligible residents statewide have gotten at least one shot, and about two-thirds have completed their initial vaccination series. Almost half of eligible adults have gotten a booster.

Officials are urging everyone to wash their hands regularly, mask up in indoor settings, maintain 6 feet of social distance and — most importantly — get vaccinated or boosted.

The vaccines are free at pharmacies nationwide. The city also offers free in-home vaccination appointments. For more information, visit chicago.gov/covidvax or call (312) 746-4835.