People, some wearing masks, pack into Daley Plaza for the annual Christkindlmarket four days before Christmas on Dec. 21, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — The city has broken another record when it comes to COVID-19, as it reported 5,216 confirmed cases in the past day — the most it’s ever detected in 24 hours.

The city is firmly in a fifth wave of COVID-19, and it is one that has seen cases and positivity rates rapidly increase at a time when hospitalizations and deaths were already up due to a post-Thanksgiving surge. The surge has been fueled by the Omicron variant, thought to be far more contagious than past versions of the virus.

Officials have said they anticipate seeing a small dip in cases as testing falls during the holidays, but they expect another surge in cases on top of what’s already happening after people gather for Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve.

“Everybody has COVID right now,” Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said during a Thursday livestream where she answers Chicagoans’ questions. “It is probably not the year to be doing as much of the large, less-controlled settings [for gatherings].

“… I wish that we were not seeing this big surge right on top of the holidays, but we are.”

Officials have urged people to take precautions as they gather for the holidays — but Arwady said there are ways they can safely do so.

Here are officials’ tips:

Get Vaccinated, Get Boosted — And Only Gather If Everyone Has Their Shots

Officials have said everyone should get vaccinated and get a booster shot to be best protected against COVID-19.

And the state’s health department has recommended people host virtual activities instead of in-person ones.

But if you’re planning an in-person gathering, it’s especially important for everyone present to be fully vaccinated, officials have said.

Arwady said she can’t make decisions for every person based on their individual risks and circumstances — but, broadly, it is important to only celebrate in person with people who are fully vaccinated and have gotten a booster shot.

“Vaccinated and boosted is the top thing for me,” Arwady said.

People should avoid gatherings with people who are unvaccinated despite being eligible to get the shots, Arwady said. If you are fully vaccinated but are planning a gathering with a person or people who are not, she recommends against seeing the unvaccinated people.

“If you’ve got folks who aren’t vaccinated, especially, or if you don’t know [their vaccine status], I’m not real comfortable, at all,” Arwady said. “I’m doing everything I can to sort of limit exposure right now” to only people who are vaccinated and boosted.

Vaccine doses and booster shots are still widely available in and around Chicago, Arwady said.


People who are nervous about breakthrough cases can get tested before and after gatherings, Arwady said.

People who have symptoms of COVID-19 or who have been exposed to someone with the virus should get a test, according to the city health department.

And people who do test positive for the virus must stay home and isolate, Arwady said.

RELATED: How Can You Get Tested For COVID-19 During The Holidays? Here’s What You Need To Know

Masks And Outdoor Activities

The state still requires everyone wear masks when indoors in public settings.

People should also wear masks in larger holiday gatherings or in settings where they don’t know if everyone is vaccinated, said Arwady and Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), who was also part of the livestream.

And outdoor activities like ZooLights, where risk is more limited, are good, Arwady said.


People who are fully vaccinated, have gotten a booster shot and have a good mask — like a KN95 — can safely fly, Arwady said.

The state has advised people who aren’t fully vaccinated to avoid air travel.

RELATED: O’Hare, Midway Airports Expecting 3 Million Travelers Over Holidays As Officials Warn Of COVID-19 Surge

Everyone 2 and older must wear a mask when at an airport and on airplanes, and travelers are encouraged to arrive early since added security measures and the surge in travel demand could mean lines are longer, according to the Department of Aviation.

Travelers can also check Chicago’s travel advisory, which currently includes 47 states and two territories.

Unvaccinated travelers from places on the list should get a COVID-19 test one to three days before their trip and three to five days after arriving in Chicago, according to the health advisory. Unvaccinated people are also asked to quarantine for at least seven days upon arrival in the city, even if they get a negative test; those who don’t get tested are asked to quarantine for 10 days.

The quarantine and test rules do not apply for travelers who are fully vaccinated.

What’s Happening After The Holidays?

The city will require some businesses — including restaurants, bars, gyms and venues — to check patrons’ vaccine status beginning Jan. 3. Unvaccinated people are supposed to be refused service.

Suburban Cook County will implement the same measures that day, officials announced Friday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said she’ll implement further mitigations if necessary. But she and Arwady have said they’d like to avoid mass closures, if possible.

Arwady said she is not anticipating and does not want a shutdown or stay at home order like other countries have implemented in response to Omicron.

But, Lightfoot has said the city’s chief goal is saving lives — and Arwady said she does not want Chicago’s health system being overrun due to the surge.

Health care workers have said they’re already concerned about running out of space and employees who can care for people who become sick.

But the health commissioner said vaccines and booster shots do offer some protection against the variant. While there might be breakthrough cases, they remain uncommon, and most people which such a case only have mild or no symptoms, she said.

The city’s positivity rate — which has jumped to 8.6 percent from 4.9 percent Monday — is “scary,” Arwady said, but people can protect themselves and others by getting their vaccine shots.

“The fact that we’re seeing this kind of positivity and this kind of case increase, but many of those people not being sick enough to be hospitalized, that’s because of prior protection,” Arwady said.

SEE MORE: Illinois Department Of Public Health’s Holiday Season Safety Tips


• In Illinois, about 7.6 million people — or 60.16 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data.

• Across the state, 65,827 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 18,853,953 vaccine doses of the 21,229,925 provided to them.

• City data shows more than 1.7 million Chicagoans — or 63.9 percent of all residents — are fully vaccinated, and 70.6 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 27,435 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 3,131 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.

• The state reported 18,942 cases since Wednesday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 2,021,302.

• Since Wednesday, 223,281 tests were reported statewide. In all, 43,209,451 tests have been reported in Illinois.

• Illinois’ seven-day case positivity rate was at 6.3 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was at 6 percent Wednesday.

• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 8.6 percent. It was at 7.9 percent Wednesday.

• As of Wednesday night, 867 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 485 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

• In Chicago, three deaths were reported since Wednesday. There have been at least 6,187 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of more than eight people dying per day, unchanged from last week.

• Chicago has had 5,216 confirmed cases reported since Wednesday. It’s had a total of 385,230 confirmed cases. An average of 2,345 confirmed cases are being reported per day, up 117 percent from the week prior.

• Testing in Chicago is up 12 percent since a week ago.

• Chicago’s positivity rate was at 8.6 percent, up from 4.4 percent the week prior.

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