With a record number of travelers expected at Illinois airports this week, experts caution that a lack of caution could worsen the spread.
Medical professionals stress the importance of preventive measures such as masking, distancing, and handwashing. Getting a COVID booster and flu shot is also recommended to reduce the risk of hospitalization.
"It’s for not just patient safety, but also healthcare worker safety and the stability of our healthcare system because we’re seeing a lot of folks still having to call out from illness," said Dr. James Lewis, Snohomish County Public Health Officer.
Yanina Purim-Shem-Tov, an emergency medicine doctor at Rush Hospital, said the same measures used during the height of the pandemic will help to keep people safe through another holiday surge.
"All of us have fatigue of COVID, and we may want to relax our precautions," Purim-Shem-Tov said. But "I cannot recommend enough to keep your vigilance, keep your hands clean, and if you have to be in an enclosed space, we’re still recommending masks."
She added that although it was previously believed patients could either have COVID-19 or the flu, the hospital has since seen patients with both at the same time, and recommended similar precautions — as well as COVID booster and flu shots, especially for the elderly or those with compromised immune systems, such as people undergoing chemotherapy.
The state health agency said the risk of COVID-19 is lower than it has been the last three years — and city data show almost a quarter of Chicagoans have received the most recent booster, despite insurance and supply issues last month. Officials still urged people to increase ventilation at gatherings to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Purim-Shem-Tov also said Rush has seen an uptick in RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, in children. Though it hasn’t reached the extreme numbers of last year, and will present as "cold-like" in most healthy adults, she still suggests taking similar precautions as the flu and COVID-19.
"This is the season," Purim-Shem-Tov said.
To further support testing efforts, households can now order four free COVID tests delivered by the US Postal Service. Those who missed the September order can receive eight tests. Orders can be placed at COVIDtests.gov, with kits set to be mailed out starting next week.
Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.