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Here’s How To Safely Celebrate The Holidays Amid The ‘Triple-Demic’ Of COVID, Flu And RSV

"We know that the holidays are a time that makes our COVID rates go up," health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.

People exit the United Center mass vaccination site in the Near West Side neighborhood on March 9, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — A “triple-demic” of COVID-19, influenza and respiratory virus is hitting Chicago just as the holidays come.

Chicagoans are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa — but they are coming just as COVID-19 cases are going up and the city is expected to soon move into the High risk level for the virus. Chicago’s also seeing increased rates of flu and respiratory virus, known as RSV.

“We’re not done with COVID because COVID is not done with us,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a Thursday news conference.

But there are ways to celebrate with loved ones safely, officials during during the news conference.

People should test themselves for COVID-19, ensure they’re up-to-date on their shots and take simple steps like washing their hands frequently if they do gather, officials said.

Those kinds of steps can protect people’s loved ones and prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed with sick people, Lightfoot said.

The city could move into the High risk category for COVID-19 as early as this week or next, Lightfoot said; if that happens, the city will issue a mask advisory encouraging people to wear masks when indoors in public.

People should “enjoy each other’s company, but do so safely,” Lightfoot said.

Still, health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said she expects to see an uptick in cases related to the holidays.

“We know that the holidays are a time that makes our COVID rates go up,” Arwady said. “We have seen that regularly. … I expect to see a similar increase in this time period.”

Vaccines, Boosters

People should get up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccines, booster shots and flu shot, Lightfoot and Arwady said.

Everyone 6 months and older is eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19 for free, and the bivalent booster shot is available to everyone 5 and older for free. The bivalent booster has proven very effective at preventing serious illness and death for the more common Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants of COVID-19.

“The No. 1 thing I want you to hear is that if you have not had a vaccine against COVID since Labor Day, you need to get that now,” Arwady said. “Make it a holiday present to yourself.”

People should also get their flu shots, as flu cases have been on the rise and are hitting children very hard, Arwady said.

People can still get vaccinated in a variety of places, including at pharmacies and doctors’ offices.

The city’s Protect Chicago at Home program will also vaccinate people in the comfort of their home for free. More information about the program is online.

Masking

There is no mask mandate in place in Chicago, but Arwady and Lightfoot urged people to wear masks if they are in crowded public settings or are traveling.

People should wear a high-quality mask, like a KN95, Lightfoot said.

Get Tested

People can ensure they protect their loved ones by testing themselves for COVID-19 before they go to a holiday gathering, Lightfoot and Arwady said.

At-home tests are widely available in stores, and people might be able to get reimbursed by their insurance plans for buying the tests. You can also order free tests from the government online, though it’s highly unlikely they’ll arrive before the weekend at this point.

If you test positive for COVID-19, even if you do not have symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you stay home and isolate. Click here for the agency’s full isolation recommendations.

Other Tips

If people gather, they should wash their hands frequently and crack a window to improve ventilation, Lightfoot said. People should also maintain distance from others, Arwady said.

Chicagoans should also avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, according to a city health department news release.

People should also be conscious of the fact that warm, indoor conditions are a “breeding ground for COVID-19,” Lightfoot said.

And people should absolutely stay home if they feel sick, Lightfoot and Arwady said.

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