As Chicago moves toward higher COVID-19 risk, Lightfoot urges all to update their shots

Mayor says mask “advisory” is coming as virus cases rise.

SHARE As Chicago moves toward higher COVID-19 risk, Lightfoot urges all to update their shots
Brenda Torres of the Southwest Organizing Project receives a COVID-19 bivalent booster vaccine at a CVS pharmacy in the West Lawn neighborhood in November.

A woman gets a COVID-19 bivalent booster shot at a CVS pharmacy in West Lawn in November.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, implored Chicagoans to get updated vaccinations as the city inches closer to being declared a high-risk location for coronavirus transmission.

“If you haven’t had the COVID-19 vaccine since Labor Day, you’re not up to date,” Lightfoot said at a Thursday news conference.

Within the next week or two, people in Chicago will likely move from being in a “medium” risk category to “high” risk one for becoming infected with the virus. Once that happens, the city will issue a mask advisory to encourage people to wear masks in public indoor settings. The city is working on new signs for businesses and public spaces.

The advisory would be a request, rather than a mandate, that anyone age 2 and older wear a mask in indoor settings. The concern, Lightfoot said, is that an increase in serious cases will fill the city’s hospitals and overload emergency rooms.

“We will protect the health care system from being overwhelmed,” said Lightfoot, who wore a mask after announcing last week that she had been infected with COVID-19 for the second time this year.

Lightfoot said that over the last week she barely felt symptoms of COVID-19, a contrast from January, and she credited that to receiving the latest booster shot available.

In September, the new booster that targets the pervasive Omicron strains of the virus was made available.

Only about 1 in 5 adult Chicagoans have received the latest booster, said Chicago Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady, who also spoke at the news conference.

About 71% of Chicagoans have completed a first round of shots, and only about 41% have received any type of booster, according to the city’s most current COVID-19 data.

Unvaccinated people are three times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 than those who received a vaccination, Arwady said.

“That’s huge,” she said. “You can cut your risk of ending up in the hospital.”

The city offers at-home vaccinations and will give shots to as many as 10 people per visit. To schedule a shot, call 312-746-4835 or 311.

The risk of death and hospitalization is down significantly from a year ago, when the city was seeing a surge from Omicron and hospital intensive care units were at or near capacity.

A year ago, an average of 11 Chicagoans were dying every day from COVID-19, according to city data. The death rate is now less than one a day on average, Arwady said, but continues to be the leading cause of death for Chicagoans.

As of Thursday, the city had recorded 7,968 deaths from COVID since 2020.

With the holidays approaching, Arwady said she expects an uptick in cases.

She encouraged Chicagoans to take a COVID-19 test before family gatherings and to stay home if they experience any symptoms.

Both Lightfoot and Arwady also encouraged everyone, especially seniors and young children, to get flu shots.

Emergency rooms are seeing an increase in children with the flu or flu-like conditions, Arwady said.

“Influenza hits young children really hard,” she said.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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