Illinois to begin next phase of COVID-19 vaccinations in 10 days
With the state's first case of a more infectious variant of COVID-19 diagnosed Friday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker laid out a vaccination program that includes deploying the Illinois National Guard to accelerate inoculations and setting a Jan. 25 date to start putting shots in the arms of seniors and essential workers.
"Starting next week, we will bring on line hundreds of vaccination sites including retail pharmacy chains," Pritzker said at a briefing. He promised vaccinations at mass sites, mobile sites, hospitals, urgent care centers and "ultimately doctors' offices and large employers." Pharmacy partners would include Walgreens, Jewel/Osco and CVS.
The state will also launch a vaccination website before Jan. 25, with information about where and how to get shots.
Currently, health care workers and long-term care residents are the first priority (Phase 1a) for COVID-19 vaccinations, according to federal guidelines. The second phase (1b) brings in people over 65, and firefighters and other essential workers who cannot work remotely during the pandemic.
Officials cautioned vaccinations will be limited at the start of Phase 1b because the supply is limited and will be by appointment only. But Pritzker is hopeful the pace will increase after President-elect Joe Biden, who has promised to accelerate distribution, is sworn in Wednesday.
"The amount (of vaccines) coming into Illinois is still at a trickle," Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said.
Illinois National Guard troops will be at two Cook County sites starting next week to help expedite Phase 1a inoculations.
"The guard's role is to support Cook County's vaccination plan," IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said. "These men and women will be trained to offer support in the roles of processing (paperwork), vaccination and observation."
Starting Monday, as it continues to administer Phase 1a inoculations, the Lake County Health Department will offer drive-through vaccinations by appointment at the county fairgrounds at 1060 E. Peterson Road in Grayslake.
"This move to the Lake County Fairgrounds will expand our capacity to vaccinate people in Lake County and allows us to continue this important work during the coldest part of the year," said Lake County Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister said in a news release.
"To date, over 19,000 people have received doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in Lake County, and we are utilizing our existing and new partnerships to expand the number of providers across the county who can vaccinate the public throughout the next phases."
Residents and those who work Lake County can register at allvax.lakecohealth.org to receive notification when it's their turn for the vaccine.
State officials say they hope to substantially complete Phase 1a next week, although suburban counties, including Will and Cook, indicated it could take longer.
Regarding the new variant, which originated in the United Kingdom and spread rapidly, Ezike said that "although there is no evidence it causes more severe disease or death, studies show it spreads easier and more quickly."
Pritzker said, "It's incredibly important for Illinoisans not to let their guards down."
State health officials reported another 123 COVID-19 deaths with 6,642 more new cases diagnosed Friday.
That brings the state's death toll from the virus to 18,049, while 1,059,324 Illinois residents have been infected since the outbreak began.
Health officials also reported fewer COVID-19 patients hospitalized across the state, with 3,446 being treated as of Thursday. Of those hospitalized, 712 were in intensive care.
The state's seven-day average case positivity rate is at 6.5%, its lowest point since Oct. 27. Case positivity allows health officials to track the spread of the virus through a certain population. Officials use a seven-day average to smooth out any daily anomalies in new cases and tests results.
• Daily Herald staff writer Jake Griffin contributed to this report.