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'I'm Feeling So Thankful To Chicago:' Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady On Lifting COVID-19 Restrictions, Next Steps With Pandemic

CHICAGO (CBS) -- At long last, the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois will fully reopen from coronavirus restrictions on Friday.

But some restrictions will remain in place. The state is recommending -- but not requiring -- that all unvaccinated people still wear masks indoors and social distance as much as possible.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady joined CBS 2's Brad Edwards and Irika Sargent live Thursday on "Hour 18." It has been 17 months since the first COVID-19 case was found in Illinois, and 15 months since the state virtually shut down – and Arwady has been right there, day in and out, 24/7, helping Chicago navigate through everything.

Edwards asked Arwady how she feels about this moment.

"I'm really excited, and I'm feeling so thankful to Chicago, because it's really all of the work that everybody has done here that has gotten us to a point where COVID is in good enough control for us to be confident about moving ahead with reopening," Arwady said. "As a person, I'm excited to be able to do a lot of things I most love about Chicago in the summer."

About 43 percent of Chicago's population is fully vaccinated, so we still have quite a ways to go to get the vaccine in more arms. Arwady shared what she is hearing that is holding people back.

"We hear some people say, 'I already had COVID – I don't need the vaccine,' which isn't true. They should get one. We hear some people say, 'I made it this far and I didn't get COVID, and that's a sign I wouldn't need it.' And we do need everybody to really step up – get that vaccine for themselves; for their community. We still hear people who don't know that the vaccine is completely free, or they think that there are still long lines," Arwady said. "Vaccine is widely available – (312) 746-4835, we will set you up with a vaccine. If you're over 65, we will even bring it to your home."

Meanwhile, children under 12 still not able to get vaccinated, and we have been hearing from some parents who are cautious about removing their masks in public - even if they're vaccinated themselves. We asked Arwady – can those parents feel safe without a mask in public, and should the children me masking?

"We definitely continue to recommend that everyone who is not vaccinated be masking in public spaces where you don't know that everyone's been vaccinated. The children should continue to mask when they are out – especially if they're going to be in indoor locations. I think related to parents, we're probably going to see a mix of decisions there. Parents do want to model that mask-wearing, sometimes for their children. But broadly, if they are fully vaccinated, and their child does not have a significant underlying condition or an immunocompromise, they are very well-protected for the vaccine," Arwady said. "So I think we'll probably see a lot of parents not wearing that mask, unless their kids are which them – in which case I think it could be good modeling behavior."

There has also been a lot of discussion about the possibility of boosters for the COVID-19 vaccine – both because it is not yet known for sure how long it provides protection, and because of variants that might affect its efficacy. With that in mind, Sargent asked Arwady if there could be a resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall.

"I think it's possible we see a resurgence in the fall. But if we do, it's more likely related to the fact that this may be seasonal. We think of our flu and our cold season in the fall and the winter, and we may see a resurgence of COVID," Arwady said. "The good news is that the vaccines are actually excellent at this point in terms of durability – meaning we've not seen signs of the vaccine wearing off. If anything, we could see a new variant emerge – especially if we don't get a lot of the population vaccinated – and in that setting, we could possibly need a different form of the vaccine to protect against that variant. But I'm feeling confident right now that the vaccines that we have protect broadly against all the known variants, and getting everybody done now should take us really through into the fall, and hopefully even into the winter."

Of course, Arwady has been working hard nonstop for a long time now. Is she planning any escape?

"I am definitely starting to plan some vacation; a little bit of time off. It's not just me. The whole health department has been working just around the clock," Arwady said. "We're happy to do it, but we're certainly looking ahead to Phase 5 and take at least a little bit of time off while we keep working on vaccines."

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