• Tracking the variant

Live updates: Omicron Variant in Chicago

Chicago’s top doc answers COVID-19 questions

Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady
Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady in Chicago on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. Youngrae Kim / Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool

The flu vs. COVID-19, incubation times and new oral medications for the virus.

Those were among the topics Chicago’s top health official addressed in her weekly Thursday update on the pandemic.

Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady responded to questions that people asked her on Facebook.

Unlike last year, there’s a flu season happening now, she said. And people are wondering how to distinguish flu and COVID cases.

“There is no way to know whether you have COVID-19 or the flu without a COVID test,” she said. “All of the tests – very specific. Meaning, when COVID is high like it is right now, any positive test is positive.”

Arwady also said it can take a few days for the virus to incubate and result in a positive test for someone who has it.

“If you just gave me COVID right now, it doesn’t matter what test I take, I would be negative,” Arwady explained. “If I took it tomorrow, it doesn’t matter what test I take, I would almost certainly be negative. It takes time once the virus gets in for the virus to start copying itself.”

The omicron incubation period is now typically a three- to five-day window, she said.

COVID cases are on the rise in Chicago. With a daily case average of 4,998, the city is seeing about 21 percent more cases this week than it did last week. There are 112 hospitalizations per day on average, and the positivity rate sits at 23 percent.

Arwady also touched on new oral antiviral medications in development for treating COVID. She said, “These are just starting to come, they’ve just been approved.”

Arwady said they work by stopping the virus from mutating itself. She said the public should expect to start seeing more of these medications, although rollout will be limited at first and the drugs must be prescribed.