As COVID-19 infections rise across the country and new, increasingly contagious variants gain prominence, the CDC and IDPH have updated recommendations for mask-wearing. Unvaccinated people are at particular risk of being infected with COVID-19. The CDC and IDPH continue to recommend that those twelve years of age or older be vaccinated.
Currently, four “variants of concern” are circulating in the US. The variants differ in speeds of transmission and severity. Vaccines and treatments help to prevent and mitigate the effects of all, but some variants remain more difficult to manage than others. Tests are able to detect COVID-19-positivity regardless of variant, but they cannot identify the variant a person has.
- The Beta variant may spread more quickly than variants that are not “of concern” (referred to as “other variants” henceforth). As indicated by current data, it does not cause more severe sickness or carry an increased likelihood of death. Authorized vaccines are largely successful in preventing this variant, though rare breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people do occur. Even in such cases, vaccines help to reduce the severity of illness, the need for hospitalization, and odds of death. Specific monoclonal antibody treatments—immunotherapy via which monoclonal antibodies to bind to the virus and prevent it from entering cells—are less effective against this variant
- The Gamma variant spreads more quickly than other variants. Present data indicate no increased likelihood of more severe illness or death associated with it. Similar to the Beta variant, authorized vaccines are successful in its prevention, though a fully vaccinated person may occasionally contract it. Still, vaccination will minimize this variant’s effects. Specific monoclonal antibody treatments are less effective against this variant.
- The Alpha variant spreads significantly more quickly than other variants and may cause more severe sickness in those infected. Authorized vaccines are also successful in preventing this variant, but again rare breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people do occur. Treatments are effective against this variant
- Delta is another variant that spreads significantly faster than other variants. It’s more than twice as contagious as the original strain and 50% more contagious than the Alpha variant. It may cause more severe sickness than other variants. As with the other three variants of concern, authorized vaccines are effective in prevention for all but a small proportion of people, in whom breakthrough cases may occur. However, data suggest that infected, fully vaccinated people may spread the virus to others. Specific monoclonal antibody treatments are less effective against this variant.
Following updated recommendations from the CDC, the IDPH adopted new guidelines for mask-wearing in public on July 27th. As the virus continues to spread throughout the country, and with the emerging Delta variant increasing transmission rates, the IDPH recommends that everyone, fully vaccinated or not, “wear a mask indoors in areas of substantial and high transmissions, and in K-12 schools.” Areas of substantial transmission, according to the CDC, are those with 50-99 cases per 100,000 people within a 7-day period. Areas of high transmission have seen 100+ cases per 100,000 people within the same. The level of transmission per county can be found here.
On August 26th Governor J.B. Pritzker announced via executive order that some groups of public sector workers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by September 5th or be tested regularly for the virus. These groups are all public PreK-12 teachers and staff, higher education employees and students, and health care workers. Similarly, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement a day earlier that full COVID-19 vaccination will be required of all city employees and volunteers by October 15th.
These mandates come as the majority of Illinoisans personally affected by COVID-19 are unvaccinated. According to Pritzker, unvaccinated people accounted for 98% of Illinois COVID-19 cases, 96% of hospitalizations, and 95% of deaths between January and July.
“The data shows that getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and those you come in contact with from serious illness, hospitalization, or death from COVID-19,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner. “Adopting and implementing this requirement,” she continued, on the topic of the Chicago mandate, “is the responsible, common-sense approach, which is why we’re seeing so many other government agencies, companies, institutions, and organizations pursue this course of action.”