With cases rising and 15 Illinois counties, including Cook County, at “high community levels” of the COVID virus, Chicago Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady on Thursday again urged people to wear masks in indoor public places and postpone Memorial Day weekend gatherings outside – and warned against trying to “get COVID to get over it”.
“Please don’t try to force COVID to get over it,” Arwaday said.
“We hear people are trying that. It’s not helping us get over COVID as a city,” she continued. “It’s also potentially dangerous because we don’t always know who is likely to have more serious consequences and there are people who have long-term illnesses from COVID. Don’t think if you get COVID you’ll never get COVID again. We see many people getting reinfected with COVID. The vaccine is the most important thing to protect.”
Many so-called COVID “long-distance drivers” who have had mild symptoms and have never been hospitalized for the virus continue to experience symptoms such as brain fog, tingling, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, tinnitus and fatigue, on average, 15, according to a new study from Northwestern Medicine months after the outbreak of the virus.
These “long-distance drivers” are people who have had COVID symptoms for six weeks or more.
While officers who remain in the state will only return to a mask mandate if the hospital system is under threat, Arwady also stressed the importance of wearing a mask as cases rise.
“Yes, that means you are independent of your vaccination status as we move towards high,” Arwady said. “But even though there’s no mandate, we’re all asking for that short time while we’re ‘high’ to put that mask on, especially if you’re in a crowded environment.”
Why COVID is spreading
The main reason COVID is spreading more rapidly now, Arwady says, is that the current variant is much more contagious than previous ones.
“We’ve now seen two sub-variants come through and overtake the early version of Omicron,” Arwady said, referring to BA.2.12.1. “This is the most contagious version of Omicron we’ve seen.”
According to last week’s data, omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1 accounted for an estimated 47.5% of COVID cases in the United States.
Testing and Quarantine Policy
Arwady not only made sure you’re up to date on booster shots – which are now legal and recommended for everyone over the age of 5 – but recommended residents continue to test, whether through PCR testing or home testing it helps, to limit the risk.
“What I don’t want is for people not to test because they’re worried about the stigma. There’s no shame in getting COVID,” Arwady said.
If you test positive for COVID, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 10-day isolation and quarantine guidelines remain the same whether you have been fully vaccinated or not.
“If you’re just diagnosed with COVID, you have to stay home for five days,” Arwady said, citing CDC guidance. “If you feel better after five days, you can leave your house, but you must mask for days six to ten while you are with others.”
“High” Covid alert level
A total of 15 of Illinois’ 102 counties are at “high community levels” of the virus, officials said.
Under new guidelines released by the CDC, a county is considered to have a “high community level” of COVID when its average number of weekly cases per 100,000 population rises above 200 and when there are either an average of 10 weekly COVID hospitalizations or when 10% or more its hospital beds are occupied by COVID patients.
All six counties that are at that “high” level went there because of weekly hospitalizations, according to CDC data.
In the event that a county reaches a “high community level” of COVID, residents are advised to wear masks indoors, regardless of coronavirus vaccination status, according to the CDC.
Those residents who are immunocompromised or live in a household with these residents are urged to avoid “non-essential indoor activities” and to consult with their doctors about any additional steps that may need to be taken.