Masks a good idea, boosters even better, as Chicago returns to ‘medium’ COVID-19 risk level

Only 13% of eligible Chicagoans have gotten the latest COVID-19 booster, which is recommended for everyone 5 and older.

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Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady adjusts her mask at a November 2021 news conference.

Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago’s public health commissioner, is advising that “most Chicagoans” who haven’t had a COVID-19 vaccine since Labor Day get one.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

COVID-19 transmission has risen to a medium risk level across the Chicago area as temperatures drop and cases rise once again, health officials said Friday. 

Cook County and the collar counties had been in the “low” transmission category for more than a month, as determined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But steady upticks in cases and hospitalizations now mean the elderly and immunocompromised are advised to mask up around others indoors. 

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Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago’s public health commissioner, said Friday that the rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations highlights the need for more people to get the latest booster shot, which is designed to target recent strains of the virus. 

“With Thanksgiving less than two weeks away and the expected rise in winter-related respiratory virus circulation, I urge all Chicagoans to stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations and get their flu shot now,” Arwady said in a written statement. “Families will be traveling and gathering indoors for the holidays, and I worry about that increased circulation of COVID-19 and flu, and especially the possibility of severe outcomes for those who remain unvaccinated or not up to date.”

Everyone 5 or older is urged to get the latest booster. Only 13% of eligible Chicagoans have done so.

“For most Chicagoans, if you haven’t had a COVID vaccine since Labor Day, you’re not up to date and not protected enough against COVID heading into winter,” Arwady said. “It doesn’t matter if you have already had boosters. This is a different vaccine, and it offers better protection against current and future virus strains.”

New COVID-19 cases by day

Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times

Source: Illinois Department of Public Health

Graph not displaying properly? Click here.

Along with Cook County, McHenry, Lake, DuPage, Will and Grundy counties are up to the “medium” level. Kendall and Kane remain at the “low” level. 

Besides rolling up a sleeve, officials say it’s a good idea for everyone in medium-risk counties to mask up in indoor settings where you’re not sure of others’ vaccination status. 

The state has recorded an average of 1,926 new cases per day over the past week, marking a 24% increase since last month. That doesn’t include at-home tests. 

More than 1,100 COVID patients were hospitalized statewide as of Wednesday night, a 15% jump compared to last month. 

Fatal cases have remained relatively flat, with the state losing an average of eight lives to the virus a day. Illinois’ pandemic death toll stands at 35,327.

Boosters are free and widely available at pharmacies. Also, the city is hosting a free vaccine clinic from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson Ave.

For more help finding a shot, go online to

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