Today, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that, beginning Jan. 3, 2022, Chicago residents age five and up must show proof of full vaccination in order to enter bars, restaurants, fitness centers and entertainment/recreation venues where food and drinks are being served.

Additionally, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Pedro Martinez announced that schools would be open on Jan. 3. This month, CPS sent home 150,000 at-home testing kits, he said, and have set up 100 drop-off locations around the city.

“We have no evidence that shutting down the whole school system will curb the spread of COVID-19,” Martinez said. “We do have evidence that when we keep our kids out of the classroom we hurt their mental health and their development.”

Lightfoot joined Martinez, Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) director Dr. Allison Arwady and other stakeholders on Tuesday at a press conference at City Hall. Each leader spoke about how the city’s new COVID-19 order will impact their individual sectors through the holiday season.

These announcements come amid ongoing spikes in the city’s test positivity rate, which has increased from 4.1 percent to 7.3 percent in the last week. As of today, Chicago is currently averaging 1,776 confirmed COVID-19 cases a day, up by 79 percent from last week, according to recent data from the Chicago Department of Public Health. Currently hospital ICU beds occupation is at its highest since January 2021, before vaccines were widely available.

The Centers for Disease Control’s definition of a person being “fully vaccinated,” as it applies to Chicago’s new COVID-19 regulations, begins two weeks after the second dose of the vaccine has been administered. If the CDC adds the COVID-19 booster shot to its fully vaccinated definition, then Chicago’s new order will be updated to require people to have boosters as well.

According to CDPH data, the omicron variant accounted for less than 1% of the COVID-19 cases in Chicago on Dec. 6, with two out of 300 specimens tested. By the following week, almost all of Chicago’s new cases were the omicron variant.

“We don’t want to have to do what the Netherlands did,” Arwady said. “They closed down high-risk establishments, [and limited] family gatherings through early January in order to overhaul their healthcare system.” 

When asked why the city is waiting until Jan. 3 to implement its new proof of vaccination order, Lightfoot said that this window will give business owners time to get their establishments and employees up to speed on the new requirements.

As part of the city’s new COVID-19 order, exceptions are being made for some, including athletes from visiting sports teams, and people who enter an establishment for less than 10 minutes if they are entering to order or pick up food. Other exemptions include houses of worship, K-12 schools, grocery stores, office buildings and residential buildings.

In compliance with this new order, business owners will have to display proper signage for both patrons and employees to follow. They must also show that they have a plan for employees to follow to ensure that their business remains in compliance with the order. 

Businesses who are found not to be in compliance with the new order can be fined between $2,000 and $10,000 for each incidence of non-compliance. For further details on how businesses can ensure compliance, the Chicago Department of Business affairs is hosting a webinar about the newest regulations.

The city’s new COVID-19 order will remain in effect until the end of the current surge in cases. You can call 312-746-4835 or visit this link to get vaccinated at home.

What is the omicron variant, and how is it different from the COVID-19 virus we've been dealing with?

The COVID-19 virus— or any virus, for that matter— is constantly mutating, which produces variants. You may have first heard of variants when the more easily spread and highly infectious Delta variant began surging during summer 2021. 

In November, a new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, was first detected by scientists in South Africa. As a result, many countries have issued travel bans to bar entry to passengers coming from South Africa and seven other countries (Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe). However, health officials in South Africa said the variant had already spread in western Europe before being identified in South Africa. 

Earlier this month, California reported the first U.S. case of the omicron variant. While the symptoms still look the same as they always have, (fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fatigue, body aches, headaches, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea), scientists from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) are still investigating the differences between Omicron and the original virus. But so far, it looks like this variant might spread even faster than Delta.

How long has the omicron variant been infecting people? Has the government been doing anything to address it?

Omicron was first detected in South Africa on Nov. 9. The first U.S. case in California was reported on Dec. 1 in a fully vaccinated woman who had just returned from South Africa. Illinois’ first omicron case was confirmed in Chicago on Dec. 7. The Omicron variant has been found in 43 out of the 50 states and nearly 90 countries worldwide. 

Earlier this month, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he would not lift the state’s indoor mask mandate. Lightfoot has been encouraging unvaccinated people to receive their COVID-19 vaccination and booster shots.

“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,” Lightfoot said in a written statement on Nov. 30.  

Today, President Joe Biden announced new actions to protect Americans against Omicron. His plan builds upon a Dec. 2  course of action: boosters for all adults, vaccinations to protect children and keep schools open, treatment pills to prevent hospitalization and more. The president’s updated plan includes deploying 1,000 troops to hospitals burdened by COVID, giving more ventilators to states in need, plus making 500 million at-home free rapid test kits available for Americans to order online starting in January, and more.

Seniors ages 65 and older lined up at the United Center on March 9, 2021 to receive the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the new mass vaccination site. Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

I'm vaccinated. I should be straight, right?

You’re on the right track, but as long as people are catching any variant of COVID-19, none of us are out of the woods yet. Being vaccinated will reduce the likelihood that you’ll contract the virus, but it doesn’t make you immune to the virus. 

With a vaccination, you’ll experience less symptoms, but you’ll still be contagious. With vaccination, you’re less likely to end up in critical condition due to a COVID-19 infection, but it doesn’t mean that the virus can’t take your life. 

If it’s been six months since you were fully vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two months with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you’re eligible to get a booster shot; this will help reduce the danger of the virus even further. 

If you are boosted, then cool. But you still need to stay masked up and be cautious about going out in public.

If you are a fully vaccinated person who is immunocompromised, the CDC is recommending you receive a third dose of the vaccine.

What should I be doing to protect myself and my community from the virus?

It’s pretty straightforward: if you aren’t vaccinated, get vaccinated. It’s the best defense we have against the virus so far. I’m sure your immune system is doing it’s best, but the vaccine is designed to help it do even better. 

If you are vaccinated, get a booster shot. Always wear a mask when out in public. Wash your hands like everyone’s lives depend on it (because, they kinda do). And I know y’all don’t want to hear this, but we gotta slow down on going out to do things. 

It was fun while it lasted, but it was definitely premature, and we’re seeing the effects of that premature “return to normal” in the resurgence of the virus. Just because the government has dragged its feet on putting restrictions in place, because they like to see us spending money and working again, doesn’t mean we can’t place restrictions on ourselves. 

Ultimately, we all just want to see our communities happy, healthy, and living. This is how we do it.

is a staff writer with The TRiiBE. Email him with news tips.
is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.
is the editor-in-chief of The TRiiBE and a 2023-2024 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.