CHICAGO - As coronavirus cases climb once again, health officials are urging Illinoisans to get their COVID-19 vaccine booster shots now to help avoid a full-blown winter surge like the state has seen the past two years.
Not even 15% of eligible Chicagoans have gotten the updated bivalent booster designed to target the Omicron variant — a rate that is "absolutely not enough for us to avoid trouble this winter," Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Friday.
"This fall is critical. We are not where we need to be as a city, in people getting that fall 2022 booster," Arwady said during a downtown news conference, dressed as a witch for Halloween.
"And my crystal ball tells me we are not going to make it through the winter unscathed from COVID, especially if we can’t get more people up to date with vaccines."
"Everybody aged 6 months and up should have had their COVID vaccine, and if you are 5 years and up, you need to get a fall 2022 booster," she said.
The warning came as 38 counties were flagged for elevated COVID-19 levels across Illinois as determined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an increase of 12 from the previous week.
Transmission is still considered low across the Chicago area, but Arwady, again looking to her crystal ball, predicted the city and the rest of Cook County "will move into at least a medium COVID level probably in the weeks to come.
"I really hope we can avoid a high COVID level. We avoid a high COVID level by keeping people out of the hospital, and we keep people out of the hospital by getting up to date on COVID-19 vaccines," Arwady said, noting that influenza and other respiratory illnesses are also poised to increase.
Under a high transmission level, masks are recommended for all indoor settings, regardless of age or vaccination status.
COVID hospitalizations across the state reached a one-month high this week, with 1,080 beds occupied as of Thursday night.
The Illinois Department of Public Health has reported almost 2,000 new cases per day on average over the last week — not including at-home tests — a 14% increase from the previous week.
Fatal cases have remained low but persistent, with an average of 10 Illinoisans succumbing to the virus each day over the past week. The overall pandemic death toll stands at 35,235.
Average daily vaccine uptake is at the highest level seen since last winter, when the initial Omicron surge overwhelmed many hospitals across the state — but about 18% of Illinois residents still haven’t gotten a single shot.
"Vaccines remain the most powerful tool to prevent serious illness. If you have not gotten the COVID-19 booster and a flu shot for yourself and your eligible children, now is a great time," Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Sameer Vohra said in a statement. "I encourage all Illinoisians to do all they can to stay safe and healthy as the holiday season approaches."
COVID-19 vaccines are still free and readily available at pharmacies and doctors’ offices citywide. For help finding a shot, visit vaccines.gov.