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COVID’s Omicron Variant Poses ‘Very High’ Global Risk; Local Officials Urge Vaccinations, Masks

"The unvaccinated remain the most at risk to themselves and others, so please get vaccinated as soon as possible," Chicago's mayor and top doctor said Monday.

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is extracted from a vial at Esperanza Health Centers, 6057 S. Western Ave., on Nov. 4, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The Omicron variant of COVID-19 poses “very high” global risks, the World Health Organization warned Monday.

Experts have said they need more time to fully study the variant and determine what kind of threat it poses, but they think it spreads more easily than other forms of the virus. That could lead to further surges of coronavirus, according to the health organization.

A South African doctor who was among the first to detect a potential new strain told Reuters the variant seems to be milder than previous iterations.

“Most of them are seeing very, very mild symptoms and none of them so far have admitted patients to surgeries. We have been able to treat these patients conservatively at home,” Dr. Angelique Coetzee told the news organization.

The United States has stopped travel from several nations that have seen cases of the variant. Local officials have urged people to get vaccinated or get their booster shot, wear a mask when around people and stay home if they think they are sick.

“At this point, there are many questions which scientists across the world, and at the Chicago Department of Public Health, are actively working to address all while closely monitoring this strain,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said in a Monday statement. “While that work continues, we must as a city, and importantly as individuals, continue to follow the public health guidance: get vaccinated, and if vaccinated, get your booster; wear a mask indoors and when you’re around other people; and if you are feeling sick, stay home to save lives.

“The unvaccinated remain the most at risk to themselves and others, so please get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

President Joe Biden, speaking during a Monday news conference, said federal officials are following “extremely closely” findings about how severely ill Omicron can make someone and how quickly it spreads.

For now, a national lockdown is “off the table” because it’s not needed if people wear their masks and get vaccinated, which can prevent COVID-19 spread, Biden said.

Biden also noted his top COVID-19 adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, believes the vaccines provide at least some protection against the Omicron variant.

“We do not yet believe that additional measures will be needed,” Biden said.

Vaccine makers have said they’ll work to reformulate the vaccines to be more effective against Omicron if needed. Biden said he’s directed government agencies to help them with that and to work to get more people vaccinated.

And Biden urged people to get vaccinated or get their booster shot before gathering for Christmas or other holidays, saying those who are fully vaccinated can celebrate much more safely.

Chicago and the rest of Illinois have already been in the midst of a rise in COVID-19, with cases quickly rising during the past several weeks.

Everyone 5 and older is eligible to get vaccinated. The vaccines are free and do not require insurance or an ID. Boosters have also been approved for people 18 and older.

RELATED: All Chicago Adults Can Get COVID-19 Booster Shots


• In Illinois, about 7.3 million people — or 57.88 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data.

• Across the state, 48,456 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 17,234,911 vaccine doses of the 20,012,635 provided to them.

• City data shows more than 1.6 million Chicagoans — or 60.9 percent of all residents — are fully vaccinated, and 68.1 percent of all Chicagoans have gotten at least one shot.

Everyone 5 and older is eligible to get vaccinated in Chicago.

COVID-19 vaccinations are free and do not require insurance. Anyone can call the city’s coronavirus hotline at 312-746-4835 to get more information on how and where to get vaccinated in their community.

The numbers:

• Seventy-eight Illinoisans were reported dead from COVID-19 since Wednesday.

• At least 26,391 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 2,958 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.

• The state reported 19,261 cases since Wednesday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 1,804,161.

• Since Wednesday, 462,048 tests were reported statewide. In all, 38,990,369 tests have been reported in Illinois.

• Illinois’ seven-day case positivity rate was at 4.1 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was at 3.3 percent Wednesday.

• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 5.2 percent. It was at 4.1 percent Wednesday.

• As of Sunday night, 446 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 212 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

• In Chicago, 14 deaths was reported since Wednesday. There have been at least 5,999 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of more than two people dying per day, down 47 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago has had 2,876 confirmed cases reported since Wednesday. It’s had a total of 343,149 confirmed cases. An average of 605 confirmed cases are being reported per day, up 10 percent from the week prior.

• Testing in Chicago is up 4 percent since a week ago.

• Chicago’s positivity rate was at 3.1 percent, up from 2.8 percent the week prior.

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