Nurse Lashanda Turner, left, gets ready to administer the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, during a vaccination clinic at Betsy Ross Elementary School in Forest Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in Forest Park, according to the Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH), a development that comes as a new variant of the virus threatens to spark another wave of infections.

A total of 1,559 Forest Parkers have contracted COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and while weekly infections are nowhere near last November’s peak, the number of confirmed positive cases had climbed 63% as of Nov. 29 (case total comparisons are made using a rolling 14-day average). The CCDPH reported 24 new COVID- 19 infections in Forest Park between Nov. 17-24.

The trend in Forest Park matches increases in case prevalence throughout suburban Cook County, where community transmission is at the “High” level and the county was reporting 199 positive cases per 100,000 people as of Nov. 26. The case positivity rate — the number of tests that return a positive result — for the week prior was 3.3%, a rate that has been steadily climbing since mid-October but, like total cases, is well below the pandemic peak. Last November, the county reported high-water case positivity above 17%.

The uptick in infections also coincides with the World Health Organization (WHO) naming the newly discovered Omicron variant of COVID-19 “a variant of concern” because “preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection” that could lead to increased transmissibility. The WHO also cautioned that investigation of the new variant, which was first reported in South Africa on Nov. 24, is just beginning.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its own statement on the Omicron variant on Friday, Nov. 26 and used the opportunity to continue to advocate for Americans to remain vigilant against the spread of the virus by wearing a mask indoors, washing their hands frequently, physically distancing when possible and receiving one of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines, if eligible.

The Omicron variant had not been detected in the United States as of Nov. 29.

Meanwhile, health officials continue to urge everyone to vaccinate against the virus, including those ages 5 to 11 who are newly eligible. Forest Park School District 91 held a vaccine clinic targeted to young students and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) reported administering 62 pediatric doses and 110 adult booster doses at the clinic at Betsy Ross School on Nov. 22.

More than three-quarters (76.6%) of Forest Parkers have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Nov. 29, with 60.2% of residents fully vaccinated. Those percentages are both well above the county (71.7% and 56.7%, respectively) rates. Statewide, only 64.3% of residents have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the IDPH.

To answer questions about the vaccines, the Omicron variant and everything else COVID-19 related, the Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH) will be hosting a virtual Ask the Doctor event on Wednesday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. featuring CCDPH Senior Medical Officer Dr. Rachel Rubin and Dr. Lisa Green of Family Christian Health Center in Harvey. The event will be broadcast on the department’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.