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Will our “Normal” Days Last? Dr. Khare weighs in on new COVID strains and what to expect moving forward

No restrictions. None. Normal. Well, almost normal. Whatever you want to call where we are right now, it’s wonderful. Chicago is out and about, smiling and socializing. We even have full capacity Cubs games again. We’ve come a long way since the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on our lives. But is it over? I asked Dr. Khare to offer his perspective on what’s next. Will we continue to see small spikes? Is the new strain going to threaten to shut things down again? Here’s what he had to say. 

Q: Should we be worried about new strains of COVID-19?

A: The CDC is watching new strains closely, as variants of the virus have the potential to spark new waves of illness. One variant in particular that is on the CDC watch list is the Delta strain (B.1.617.2). This mutation of COVID-19 was first detected in India in February 2021. India, as we’ve seen on the news, has suffered tremendous loss. Thousands of people got sick. This strain of COVID-19 is already in the United States. Whether it creates another round of illness is the real question, but here’s the data: If you have been vaccinated, this strain will not affect you. The only issue is for those who have not been vaccinated. There is a significant amount of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) that is pushed in the media (obviously, they need to get clicks and reads), but right now, in my medical opinion, this strain will not cause an increase in COVID-19 cases in those who are vaccinated.

Q: Will COVID-19 ever be gone from our lives? 

A: Probably not. However, it will likely become less problematic and we will learn to live with it. Vaccines, coupled with people having antibodies from previous infection, will limit new strains from spreading. When COVID-19 first entered the United States, we had no protection. It spread like wildfire and caused serious illness. Now, even if new COVID-19 strains continue to crop up, we have some level of protection. We learn more about the virus every day, which allows us to create effective vaccines and to be proactive in preventing its spread.

Q: Will additional vaccines be required? 

A: Much like flu viruses, COVID-19 viruses can mutate and change. For this reason it is entirely possible that we will one day have annual vaccines for COVID-19 variants. Scientists are continuing to study how well the existing vaccines protect against the variants. They are also astudying how long the vaccines will last and protect us. I suspect booster vaccines will be needed down the road, probably starting in October. You will probably need to get a booster from the same manufacturer as your original vaccine. 

Q: Do we still need to be tested for COVID-19 every time we get symptoms? 

A: While COVID-19 virus numbers are low currently, it’s still best to be tested if you have cold-like symptoms, a cough, fever or shortness of breath. Innovative Express Care continues to offer COVID-19 testing at our 1111 W. Diversey Parkway location. Testing and early identification of the virus allows you to quarantine and prevent spreading the illness to others. The days of dismissing symptoms and going to work sick or not are likely over. COVID-19 devastated many businesses as employee outbreaks occurred. For this reason, many will continue to require COVID tests and take a more proactive approach to employee health.

More Businesses Invest in Employee Health

Innovative Care for Business

The COVID pandemic put a tremendous strain on businesses. Many companies were unprepared for remote work and unsure how to implement safety protocols in the workplace. As we move forward from the pandemic and return to the office, Innovative Care is helping companies limit further disruptions. Innovative Care for Business grew from an employee testing program launched last summer, to a full concierge health service for companies.

Small Investment, Big Reward

Companies who take a proactive approach to employee health will experience fewer disruptions in the workplace due to illness. We are here to help companies develop policies to protect their workforce, as well as to offer immediate access to care when it’s needed. A full list of the services offered through Innovative Care for Business is below. 

  • Priority urgent care appointments (sick visits, injuries, medication refills, X-ray services)
  • Telemedicine appointments 7 days/week
  • Annual flu shots given at your workplace 
  • Annual biometric screening at your workplace (cholesterol, A1C, hemoglobin)
  • COVID-19 testing with results within 36 hours
  • Medical directorship to guide you
  • Patient navigator at your side
  • Access to Innovative Therapy, our integrated behavioral health services
  • Discount at Innovative MedSpa (10%)

Medical Directorship

Wouldn’t it be nice to say, “I got a guy” for all your employee health questions? That’s exactly what you get with Innovative Care for Business. We will help you modernize guidelines for symptomatic and sick employees. We will also keep an eye on virus activity and alert you if it begins to spike again, granting time for you to make adjustments in the workplace. Having Innovative by your side is like having a doctor down the hall to help determine what is in the best interest of the company and your employees. Nobody expected the COVID-19 pandemic. But you can be prepared for anything that comes your way in the future. Add Innovative Care to your team and keep your workforce healthy. 

For more information about Innovative Care for Business, visit us online

Enroll your business.

Your Physician May Be the Missing Link in Your Weight Loss Program

Weight Management Have you struggled with your weight for years? Do you start strong, but then fizzle out when beginning a new plan? Your physician may be the missing link. 

Being chronically overweight or obese is a health problem that can put you at risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other serious diseases. So why isn’t your weight treated like other medical problems? Sure, your doctor may advise you to lose weight, watch your diet and exercise, but a quick mention during an annual physical is far from managing this chronic condition. 

Innovative Primary Care is stepping up to do more for our patients. We now offer Innovative Weight Management, a physician-led, 12-month weight loss plan to help you achieve success.  

About Innovative Weight Management

Obesity is a chronic health condition, and it should be treated as such. While some people may be able to simply watch what they eat and exercise regularly, it is just not that easy for others. This is not your fault. Genetics, lifestyle, physical health and many other factors come into play with weight. As a medical provider, we are acutely aware of the legitimate struggles that people face with their weight. Do this for your health. Let’s reach your goals together. Innovative Weight Management combines diet, exercise, physician support and for many patients, medication, to achieve your goals. 

Here’s what you get:

  • Physician Led Program
  • Benchmarks Recorded 
  • Insurance Accepted
  • Regular Check-ins (weekly for the first four weeks; monthly thereafter)
  • 12-Month Program 
  • Support in all elements of weight management: behavior, nutrition, physical activity and pharmacology. 
  • Complementary MedSpa consultation during your journey. 
Why it Works

Having your physician involved in your weight loss adds accountability and purpose. Weight loss is not just about how you look. It’s about your health. Your health matters. Having your physician by your side through this health endeavor, just as you do for other health problems, just makes sense. It’s also an important element that is not present with fad diets, quick-fixes, cleanses and other things you’ve tried. Innovative Weight Management is a 12-month program to educate, guide and motivate you to make lifestyle changes that will be long-term. Our approach is based on guidance from OMA (Obesity Medicine Association), Cornell and Harvard. 

Start Your Journey Today

Make an appointment at Innovative Primary Care and talk to Dr. Gazzi and her team to get started. We are here to help you achieve a healthy weight, just as we manage blood pressure and other chronic health conditions.

Feeling Socially Awkward After COVID Quarantining? You are Not Alone

socially awkward covid-19

COVID-19 changed our lives in radical and unexpected ways. Most people went from busy, bustling schedules to a much slower pace. We opted to Zoom friends and family versus meeting in person. We skipped hugs and waved from a distance instead. Holidays and special occasions were put on hold or done online. Working from home became the norm, and some people were almost completely isolated from others. After more than a year of COVID restrictions, will a return to our “old lives” be possible? Yes, but as with many aspects of human behavior, people’s adaptability will vary. Some will recognize the new environment and adapt, while others will refuse or lack the resources to do so effectively. You may face some of these common struggles as you emerge from your COVID lifestyle and adapt to your new environment. 

You May Feel Socially Awkward

Restrictions have been eased, vaccines are being administered and the world around you is beginning to look and feel more normal. Still, you may be hesitant to say “yes” to the birthday party your friend is throwing, or the night out that you so desperately need. When you do go, you find yourself feeling socially awkward. Do you give a handshake, fist pump, or hug to say hello? Are you standing too close to others? Why is everyone unmasked? It is normal to have these feelings. Everything you have done for 14 months will feel like it’s suddenly being tossed out the window. It will take time to feel comfortable in large groups again. This is all normal, take your time and don’t dive in all at once. Start by seeing a core group of family and friends that you have missed the most and branch out from there. Soon you will feel more comfortable resuming other activities, too. 

You May Require a Bit More Personal Space

After staying socially distanced for more than a year, close talkers and friends who go in for a hug instead of simply saying hello may test your limits. It’s okay to need some personal space. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries and lead the way. Vocalize when you are feeling uncomfortable and give yourself some distance. In time, all will seem normal again. 

You May Need More Me Time

Staying home for the bulk of 2020 allowed many people to enjoy “me time” they simply didn’t have enough of pre-pandemic. As things resume, do not overbook your schedule. Save some sacred “me time” so you can continue to have time for yourself. Whether you reflect and meditate, read a book, exercise or simply unwind, enjoy it. Overscheduled lives lead to unnecessary anxiety and stress, which puts a strain on your mental and physical health. 

You May Be More Selective with Your Time

COVID provided an acceptable excuse to get out of almost anything. Even if you felt an event or activity MIGHT be safe, you could always say “Sorry, I can’t because of COVID” and it was okay. COVID also provided an opportunity to prioritize your activities, your obligations, and even your friends. Many people will be more selective coming out of COVID. They’ll realize the joy of saying “no” so you can have more time with your family, or even more time to yourself. Others will have learned which friendships mean the most to them and will reserve time for only those relationships moving forward. 

You May Be More Anxious

COVID was a scary time for many people, especially in the early months. Our schedules completely changed and almost everything was done from home. It’s normal to feel anxious as these things go back to the way they once were. While it may be a very welcome change, it is still change, and change can cause us to feel anxious and uncertain. If you are feeling this way, know you are not alone. The pandemic changed all of us. Consider talking with a therapist as you adjust to life post-pandemic. Therapy is an effective way to work through changes in life, be it COVID or something else entirely. 

If you feel any of the above, know you are not alone. According to the CDC, the percentage of adults with symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder increased from 36.4% to 41.5%, and the percentage of those reporting an unmet mental health care need increased from 9.2% to 11.7% from August 2020 to February 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic caught the world by surprise and turned things upside down.  It caused fear, anxiety and sadness for many people. Most of all, it wasn’t short-lived. The impact of physical distancing and stay-at-home orders will stay with us for a little longer and it will take time for people to feel comfortable being in large groups again. Give yourself time, space and talk to someone if you are struggling. 

Innovative Therapy, part of Innovative Care, has five dedicated therapists on our team.

Visit us online to learn more about our services, or email us to schedule an appointment.

Innovative Express Care Celebrates Six Years of Exceptional Care

Six years ago, Innovative Express Care started as a dream to do healthcare differently. More than a decade in the Emergency Department at a large academic medical center had opened my eyes to gaps in the healthcare system. It also allowed me to realize the need for greater innovation and technology to improve the patient experience. I wanted to evolve the healthcare experience. 

Pairing Quality with Convenience

Long before telemedicine was mainstream (thanks COVID), Innovative Express Care used virtual visits to afford patients more convenience. Virtual visits work well for medication refills, symptom consults, and more, and they can be done from a patient’s home or office. 

Innovative also offers online scheduling. Patients can easily secure an appointment time that works within their schedule. Walk-in wait times are also published. 

Forward Thinking

As an independent clinic, Innovative is nimble. We execute on our ideas quickly. In 2016, we expanded our services to include medical cannabis certification. While legal in Illinois, most medical providers were not supporting patients who chose to pursue cannabis as a means of symptom relief. Innovative Express Care quickly became the go to clinic for patients who wanted to incorporate cannabis alongside traditional therapies for chronic pain and/or depression caused by a qualifying medical condition. 

Innovative Express Care was also among the first clinics in Chicago to offer Ketamine infusions for the treatment of severe depression, anxiety and PTSD. Demand for both medical cannabis certification and ketamine infusions ultimately spurred two new clinics, now known as Innovative Wellness and Innovative Ketamine. 

Caring for our Community

When COVID-19 hit Chicago, Innovative was among the first medical providers to respond to the need for community testing. We erected a medical tent in our parking lot to see symptomatic patients safely, while reducing exposure and the risk of transmission to other patients. Our team later moved to a larger site that allowed us to see over 1,500 patients every day. 

Still, every appointment filled daily. Patients demand prompted us to establish three additional testing sites. By fall, our testing capacity was more than 3,000 COVID-19 tests per day. 

Innovative Express Care was the first clinic in Chicago to offer COVID-19 antibody testing. We were also among the first clinics to have the COVID-19 vaccine. We have worked to curb this pandemic for more than a year at this point, and we will not stop until COVID-19 is behind us. 

Six Clinics Strong
  • Innovative Express Care drew many patients who did not have a medical home and needed a primary care provider. Innovative Primary Care was born from this need and began seeing patients in 2016. Today, the busy primary care has five medical providers. 
  • Innovative Therapy was also established to serve the needs of Innovative Express Care patients. A behavioral health component has allowed us to meet both the physical and emotional needs of our patients, while also providing consults on PTSD and ADHD. 
  • Innovative MedSpa offers a full range of services, including facials, Botox, fillers, PRP therapy and more. 
  • Innovative Ketamine is a leader in IV ketamine infusions for the treatment of depression, anxiety and PTSD. 
  • Innovative Wellness continues to be Chicago’s choice for medical cannabis certification and cannabis consulting. 
What does the future hold?

In six years, we evolved from one standalone urgent care, to a full medical group. We call this Innovative Care. Our focus moving forward will be on primary care, urgent care and behavioral health. The combination of these services in one medical group will make Innovative Care unique. We will grow our three key practices, while nurturing the affiliate practices our patients also love. Innovative Care will be the “go to” place for primary care, urgent care and behavioral health on Chicago’s North side. Patients will continue to choose Innovative Care because we provide high-quality health care that is also efficient and convenient. Technology and innovative thinking improve the patient experience.

Innovative Care is healthcare evolved, and we look forward to continuing to execute on the mission we set for ourselves six years ago.

 

Vaccinated and Exposed to COVID: Am I at Risk?

Vaccinated and Exposed to COVID: Am I at Risk?

Now that approximately 50 percent of people in Illinois are vaccinated, we are getting a lot of questions about virus risk and COVID-19 testing. Is it necessary for this group? Can they still catch COVID? Dr. Khare weighs in on some common questions below.

Q: I’m fully vaccinated, can I still catch COVID?

A: Yes, however the chance of you contracting COVID after you have been fully vaccinated remains low. If you do however catch the virus, your symptoms will be considerably less severe than if you had not been vaccinated. This is why it is very important for people to get vaccinated. While it may not offer 100 percent protection against the virus, it does offer up to a 95 percent protection against severe illness related to COVID. Thus far at Innovative Express Care, we’ve seen seven individuals who were fully vaccinated test positive for COVID-19. This may be due to different variants of the virus that are circulating.

Q: If I’m fully vaccinated, but was exposed to COVID, do I need to get tested?

A: According to the CDC, you do not need to be tested for COVID unless you experience symptoms. That said, if you are repeatedly in contact with a COVID positive person (i.e. a parent with a positive child or a caregiver to someone who tests positive), it doesn’t hurt to be tested. We often recommend this for caregivers, just to be sure they are not unknowingly carrying the virus and therefore potentially spreading it to other individuals. If you experience COVID symptoms, whether you had a known exposure to the virus or not, we do recommend testing. Testing is the only way to know for sure if you are carrying the virus. It is uncommon for vaccinated individuals to contract COVID, but it is possible. Testing could prevent someone else from getting sick, and possibly even save a life.

Q: Can a vaccinated person spread COVID to an unvaccinated person?

A: Yes, although this only happens if the vaccinated person contracts COVID themselves. That said, the risk remains low. Since it is however possible for a fully vaccinated person to contract COVID, there is the potential for someone who is vaccinated to spread the virus within their community. The best thing to do is to get tested if you have virus symptoms. This will allow you to find out if it’s COVID, or perhaps something else, before you spread it to others.

Q: Is it hard to make a testing appointment?

A: Not at all. We are open 7 days a week and accept walk-ins for COVID testing. You may also schedule online here. Testing is quick and easy. After checking in, you’ll simply walk up or drive thru our testing center. Patients are typically in and out within 15 minutes.

Getting Vaccines to Those who Need Them Most

We are often asked, how do you distribute your vaccines? Is it all just a race to snag an appointment online faster than others? Unfortunately, there is a race for a subset of our appointments online, however that is far from the only way we do it. Let me explain.

Our first priority is to vaccinate the most vulnerable populations of people. As a center who has conducted upward of 300,000 COVID-19 tests to date, we have been in the trenches for a full year now. We’ve seen the impact COVID has had on our communities, particularly those who are older or living with comorbidities. We also know COVID-19 has hit Black and Latinx communities at disproportionate numbers compared to predominantly white communities. Distributing vaccines to these communities, and senior citizens, is a key part of our distribution strategy.

Weekly Allocation COVID Vaccines

Community Equity & Seniors

In the last month, we’ve established relationships with three community groups dedicated to providing vaccine access to seniors and those in medically underserved communities. Each week, when doses come from the city, we earmark around 10 percent of those vaccines for this effort. We work with My Block, My City, My Hood to ensure vaccine access for majority-Black and Latinx communities hardest hit by COVID-19. Local Vaccine Angels also contribute, dedicating countless hours of time each day to secure vaccine appointments for seniors.

Online booking systems can be challenging for older adults or those who do not have internet access. We recognize this and rely on help from these groups who play an important role in vaccine equity for our community. The local teen who leads a Chicago Vaccine Angel group was recently featured on Good Morning America for his work.

Innovative Primary Care also plays a role in getting vaccines to eligible patients. We communicate with patients 65 and older to encourage them to schedule vaccine appointments, and can accommodate them during well visits at our clinic or at our vaccine center.

Chicago Public School Staff and Teachers

Classrooms across the country have been disrupted by COVID. Just this week, we hit the one-year mark since Chicago Public Schools had to pivot to remote learning due to the virus. Getting our teachers and school staff vaccinated to children can return to the classroom is critical. Innovative Express Care operates four vaccination sites for Chicago Public Schools. Each week when we get our vaccine allotment, 1,500 doses are earmarked for this school vaccination effort. Over the last few weeks, this has been 30 percent of our total vaccine allotment.

ZocDoc

Innovative Express Care was one of the first sites to sign on with ZocDoc for vaccine scheduling. This effort was spearheaded by the City of Chicago as a way to offer a one-stop shop for locating vaccine appointments in the city. We open at least 100 appointments on ZocDoc weekly.

Strike Teams

While the vast majority of our vaccines are administered at our clinics, we also have a strike team that heads out into the community to test or vaccinate eligible individuals. This team has traveled to factories, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, area schools and more.

Innovative COVID

Each week, we release as many appointments as possible for individuals to book vaccine appointments directly on our website. Since the amount of doses we get weekly from the City of Chicago varies, this amount does as well. When a shipment of vaccines arrives, we first have to remove the doses allocated for Chicago Public Schools. Next, we have to set aside the quantity needed for second doses. Then, we are able to begin allocating to the various efforts listed above. The remainder is put on our website for open booking.

Traveling from an Orange State? Skip the Quarantine with an At-Home PCR Test

As people resume travel for work and pleasure, many will learn that COVID testing requirements vary from state to state. Depending on where you go, you may even find yourself under quarantine upon return home to Chicago. 

The city of Chicago currently requires anyone traveling from an orange state to a self-quarantine for 10 days, or obtain a negative COVID test up to 72 hours prior to their arrival in Chicago. This means that during your vacation, you’ll need to find a COVID testing site to prove you are negative in order to resume your day-to-day life once back in Chicago. Nobody wants to waste time on vacation at a COVID testing site.

Take a Test Kit with you on Vacation

You can avoid the hassle of finding a testing site by purchasing a $99 take home kit that you can mail to the lab from wherever you are in the US.

I recently took my family on a ski trip to Utah and went through this very experience. While I am fully vaccinated, my family had a choice to make. We could test within 72 hours of our return trip home, or agree to quarantine upon arrival. My kids have spent very little time inside a school building this year, so keeping them home longer was not ideal. Instead, we used the at-home saliva test kit and mailed in our saliva sample while still in Utah so we could have our results in time to avoid a quarantine back home. 

If you are traveling in the near future, keep an eye on restrictions. Some destinations require proof of a negative test prior to travel. Lab times can vary and be unpredictable, so this may leave you looking for a fast option to guarantee your travel plans are not put on hold. Innovative Express Care has two options to accommodate travelers. 

  1. At home test kit
  2. 30-minute PCR results at our affiliate clinic, COVID of Chicago

For more information about 30-minute PCR testing for travel, visit our website

To purchase an at-home testing kit, click here

City of Chicago emergency travel order information can be found here

First Healthcare Workers Vaccinated at Innovative Care

After 10 challenging months fighting COVID-19, our front line-healthcare workers were able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine today. This day has been a long time coming and was emotional for our team who has worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic. 

Innovative Express Care began testing for COVID-19 in March of 2020. We started with a small medical tent in our urgent care parking lot, and grew to three dedicated COVID-19 testing clinics that see more than 2,500 patients every day. Our team has administered more than 275,000 COVID-19 tests during the pandemic to date. 

I am extremely proud of our team. They put uncertainty and fear aside in the early days to serve their community and while the world stayed home, they worked hard to hire more staff, test patients and fight COVID-19 day after day. Today is their day. 

I hope to have our healthcare team vaccinated within the next two weeks. By February, I want to begin vaccinating other high-risk individuals such as those on the front lines, and older patients, according to the CDC guidelines. 

While the vaccine is being distributed, it’s important that we continue to take precautions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Please wear your mask, limit your social interactions and respect social distancing. We have come a long way and everyone is ready to return to a sense of normal. It will come, but please remain vigilant in the meantime. 

Stay tuned to our website and social media pages for updates on the vaccine rollout for patients. 

 

Holiday Gatherings Likely Fueling COVID-19 Case Increase

If you gathered with extended family or friends during the holiday season, please schedule a COVID-19 test. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen an upward trend in positive COVID-19 cases in patients tested at Innovative Care. This is concerning, as the week between Christmas and New Years is a common time for gatherings, and we are just now entering the window of time in which symptoms would present based on the incubation time of COVID-19.

The graph below depicts the two week time period from December 23, through January 6, and is based on the percent of positive rapid antigen test results. We are seeing a similar trend in PCR test results. 

For a full look at the percent of positive cases in the last few months, click here

While many people are cautiously optimistic that Illinois regions will begin to lift Tier 3 restrictions in the coming weeks, this data from our Lincoln Park clinic indicates we are not moving in that direction here on the Northside. I am concerned that we’ll see the upward trend in cases continue over the next 10 days to two weeks. 

Stop the spread of COVID-19

The best way to stop the spread of COVID-19 is to avoid gatherings, mask up and get tested. Isolation is hard, so many people let their guard down during the holiday season. We simply need to do our best. You can schedule a COVID-19 test online or purchase one of our at-home test kits

Stay well Chicago. We are making progress. We plan to offer the COVID-19 vaccine in the coming months and will continue to see you through this pandemic.