It comes as Chicago Department of Public Health distributed 1.5 million KN95 masks across the city Tuesday. The masks are being made available at aldermanic offices for constituents and community groups.
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"When someone is having a conversation about a mask, when someone is having a conversation about anything else that they are seeking altogether, it is not just, 'here's a mask,' it is 'here's a mask and are you vaccinated?" said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of Chicago's Dept. of Public Health.
Arwady says vaccination is still the best answer to beating the pandemic. Nevertheless, the mask distribution is a one-off as Chicago struggles with the omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. Nationwide it is surging, but the peak may be in sight.
The city's COVID dashboard shows that average daily cases may have peaked January 3 and hospitalizations might have done the same four days earlier. And, the test positivity rate, which has been skyrocketing, may have topped out on New Year's Day.
"I am feeling good about the fact that potentially we are seeing at least some slowing of increase, but we do need some more days of data," Arwady said.
Tuesday morning, Lucille Draper wasted no time getting to Alderman Walter Burnett's 27th Ward office at Madison Street and Western Avenue to pick up several KN95 masks.
"I have a civil duty as well as a person to stay safe," she said. "If I keep myself safe, I help other people."
Alderman Burnett received 20,000 masks to give out to his constituents and community groups.
"The schools are getting some for the teachers," he said. "Next week they're gonna get some for the kids. Our next most important people are the senior citizens so we send some to senior citizens buildings, but we're also doing a robocall to everybody in the ward to let them know that we have them here."
Draper said these new masks will help her feel safer.
"I'm constantly at the hospital and I go to church and whatever and I'm always interacting with the people, they come to my house so this will keep us safe," she said.
The city's effort comes as the omicron wave intensifies and as the CDC weighs recommending better masks to fight the variant.
An eye-opening pre-omicron study on masks showed it can take about 1/2 an hour for two people wearing cloth masks to pass the virus to each other compared to about 25 hours when both are wearing n95 masks.
"The higher grade masks are really going to protect people because they not only have a more proper fit they have a better seal," said Dr. Alok Pate, Stanford children's health physician.
The masks are non-medical grade. You can contact your alderman's office if you are interested in acquiring one of the masks.
The mask distribution comes as the omicron COVID variant has caused cases to surge in the city and across Illinois, with more than 19,000 new cases reported in the state Monday.