Illinois in vaccine race against more infectious COVID-19 strain
A more infectious strain of COVID-19 likely is circulating in Illinois even as the state and nation struggle to expedite getting vaccines into arms, public health officials said Monday.
"Potentially in March we could have this new variant be the majority of our cases, and that means that we will have more infectious spread," Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said at a briefing.
Illinois has received 819,300 doses of Pfizer's and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines, and 334,939 of those doses had been administered as of Sunday, mainly to health care workers and nursing home residents, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.
Later this week, Pritzker plans to announce when vaccines will start for people 65 and older and essential workers like firefighters whose jobs don't allow them to work from home during the pandemic. Details are scant about how vaccinations will be administered for this "phase 1b" group.
The COVID-19 variant caused a surge of cases in the United Kingdom.
"It is very important that we get as many people vaccinated" as possible, Ezike said. Unlike the United Kingdom, "we know this is brewing and therefore we have the opportunity to use that information and make better choices" by wearing masks and avoiding social gatherings, she said.
While the new COVID-19 strain appears to be more contagious, "there is no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness or increased risk of death," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said. A recent Pfizerstudy indicates its vaccine is effective against the variant, The Associated Press reported.
The Illinois Department of Public Health will begin reporting vaccination rates Tuesday.
The first phase of vaccines for health care workers and long-term care facility residents (Phase 1a) is about 850,000 people,
Phase 1b entails about 3.2 million. Essential workers include first responders, teachers, manufacturing employees, day-care employees, postal carriers and grocery store employees.
Not everyone in the first phase will be vaccinated before the second phase starts, Ezike said. For "some. it's due to hesitancy; for others, they may not have had an opportunity yet."
In cases where hospitals asked for more doses than they ended up needing, the state has asked them to provide those to people in Phase 1b, Pritzker said. "We don't want any vaccines sitting around."
Pritzker said he is "confident" every resident who wants to be vaccinated will be by the end of the year. But the state needs more doses and potentially support from the Army and U.S. Department of Health and Human services to help, he said.
On Friday, the state is set to ease tough COVID-19 restrictions in Illinois' 11 public health regions imposed Nov. 20 to tamp down a virus surge.
"If things continue to improve in a region, IDPH will reclassify that region according to Tier 2, Tier 1 and back to Phase 4 as they meet the necessary metrics," Pritkzer said, referring to less restrictive stages that would eventually allow indoor dining and larger gatherings, for example.
"If we maintain that adherence to masking, social distancing and getting a vaccine when it's your time, we will experience a robust recovery," Pritzker said.
More than 25.4 million COVID-19 vaccines have been delivered in the U.S., with more than 8.9 million people getting first doses, the CDC reported Monday. Illinois has gradually raised the number of shots given from 1,394 per 100,000 people on Jan. 5 to 2,613 per 100,000 Monday, according to CDC data. In contrast, Wisconsin is lower at 2,323 per 100,000 but Indiana is higher at 2,724 per 100,000.
Of the 819,300 vaccine doses, 231,000 were handled by Walgreens and CVS pharmacies that are giving shots at nursing homes and 587,900 were distributed to the state and local agencies.
New cases of COVID-19 totaled 4,776 Monday with 53 more deaths. Typically, case numbers are low on Mondays as a result of lagging reports over the weekend.
Some key metrics are increasing.
Over the last seven days, new infections reached an average of 6,942 daily compared to 6,074 Dec. 29-Jan. 4. Similarly, an average of nearly 115 Illinoisans died of the virus in the last seven days, contrasted with 109 people a day Dec. 29-Jan. 4.
The number of patients in Illinois hospitals with the virus stood at 3,540 as of Sunday night, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. That's fewer than the seven-day average of 3,741 and less than the average patient count of 4,024 from Dec. 28 to Jan. 3.
Total infections statewide are 1,033,526 and fatalities are 17,627.
The state's positivity rate for COVID-19 cases is 7.6% based on a seven-day average.
Labs processed 66,697 test results from Illinoisans in the last 24 hours.