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Wednesday marks the official launch of the government’s website offering Americans access to free COVID test kits after many were surprised by the site’s soft launch Tuesday.

Plus, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is set to give a COVID-19 update for Illinois.

Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic across Illinois today:

Watch Live: Chicago’s Top Doctor to Give COVID Update Wednesday

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady is set to deliver a COVID-19 update for the city Wednesday afternoon, alongside other public health and city leaders.

Arwady is scheduled to speak at 1 p.m., along with CDPH Medical Director Dr. Geraldine Luna and Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez.

Watch live in the player above.

How to Get Free COVID Test Kits by Mail as Government Website Set for Full Launch

While many managed to place orders for their free at-home COVID test kits Tuesday, the government’s official website for the tests is set for a full launch Wednesday.

How many can you order, which tests will you be sent and when will actually get them?

Here’s a breakdown of what to know ahead of the website’s official launch.

Gov. Pritzker to Give COVID-19 Update for Illinois at 2:30 p.m.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is set to give a COVID-19 update for Illinois Wednesday afternoon.

The governor is scheduled to address the state at 2:30 p.m. from the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago.

The address comes as metrics begin to show signs the state could be moving past a peak in cases caused by the omicron surge, though health officials have stressed that both Chicago and Illinois remain in a surge.

Watch live here or in the player above.

White House to Distribute 400 Million Free N95 Masks

The Biden administration will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free to Americans starting next week, now that federal officials are emphasizing their better protection against the omicron variant of COVID-19 over cloth face coverings.

The White House announced Wednesday that the masks will come from the government’s Strategic National Stockpile, which has more than 750 million of the highly protective masks on hand. The masks will be available for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers across the country. They will begin shipping this week for distribution starting late next week, the White House said.

This will be the largest distribution of free masks by the federal government to the public since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Details here.

Federal Website for Free At-Home COVID Tests Set for Full Launch, but Some Concerns Remain

The federal government conducted a soft launch of a website designed to give Americans access to free at-home COVID tests, with an eye toward the full launch coming on Wednesday.

The free tests are part of President Joe Biden’s pledge to provide Americans with access to up to half-a-billion COVID tests in the new year, with each household eligible to receive four free tests through the United States Postal Service’s special website.

“Bottom line, this winter, you will be able to get tests for free in the comfort of your home, with peace of mind,” the president said.

The soft launch of the site came as a surprise to many on Tuesday, but many residents were able to access the tests.

According to the federal government, contracts for up to one billion tests will be awarded in a joint effort between the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services.

“We see that there’s been enormous demand, and we are trying to keep up with that demand,” Dr. Tom Inglesby, senior advisor to the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team, said.

COVID by the Numbers: Average Cases, Hospitalizations Decline in Illinois

Illinois health officials reported more than 20,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, but there are more signs that the state could be moving past a peak in cases caused by the omicron surge.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, there were 20,483 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 reported in the last 24 hours statewide.

With the data now released from over the holiday weekend, the state is averaging 27,795 new cases of COVID per day, a 14.4% reduction from the high watermark of 32,501 daily cases that was established on Jan. 12, according to IDPH data.

In all, 2,682,983 total cases of the virus have been reported during the pandemic.

Can You Get Omicron More Than Once? Chicago’s Top Doctor Answers

With the omicron variant leading to increased infections in people who previously had COVID-19, is it possible that someone who has an omicron case now could contract the same strain of the virus again?

The answer isn’t exactly clear yet, according to public health experts.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said such information remains to be seen.

Read more here.

Booster Shots and Omicron: Side Effects, Eligibility and More

The omicron variant has led to a heightened push for booster shots around the country, with more ages becoming eligible and some groups now able to get their extra dose sooner than others.

Across Illinois, booster shot clinics have been sprouting up in recent weeks, including in several Chicago-area suburbs over the weekend. Mass vaccination sites are reopening in a number of Cook County suburbs this week, offering booster shots as well as initial doses.

But what do we know about booster shot efficacy, side effects and more, particularly surrounding the omicron variant?

Here’s what we know so far.

Omicron, Flu, Allergies: How Can You Tell the Difference in Symptoms?

If you’re wondering whether that runny nose, sore throat or sneeze is simply allergies, just a cold, or possibly early signs of COVID-19 or the flu, you’re not alone.

With many experiencing cold-like symptoms, and with COVID and flu cases rising this winter, it can be hard to decipher what could be behind the onset of symptoms.

Experts say the only real way to know the answer is to test, but until then, health officials say to treat any possible symptoms as COVID.

“If you think it’s a cold, if you think it’s the flu, it’s probably COVID,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a press conference late last month. “We need you to stay home if you’re not feeling well.”

Read more here.

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