COVID-19 update: All Illinois restaurant workers now eligible for vaccine

  • Bartender Drew Hanley serves Mary and Walt Sterrinberg at Peggy Kinnane's Irish Restaurant and Pub in Arlington Heights.

    Bartender Drew Hanley serves Mary and Walt Sterrinberg at Peggy Kinnane's Irish Restaurant and Pub in Arlington Heights. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, January 2021

 
 
Updated 3/29/2021 7:40 PM

Sylvia Masters is seeing some familiar faces again at the breakfast restaurant she owns in Carol Stream.

The regulars, the old-timers who used to fill the booths at Mapleberry Pancake House, are coming through the doors again, newly vaccinated and newly confident.

 

"Now, it's my turn to move forward," Masters said.

Illinois on Monday extended vaccine eligibility to workers in the hard-hit restaurant industry, providing a layer of protection for servers and optimism for business owners who have fought to stay afloat for more than a year of the pandemic.

"I know I put myself at risk every day, and I had to do whatever I had to do to save the business and everybody else's livelihood," Masters said.

The state on Monday also opened up vaccinations to construction trade workers and religious leaders as Illinois public health officials announced 69% of seniors have now received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Inoculating 70% of people 65 years and older would clear one of the thresholds for easing restrictions and advancing to the state's "Bridge Phase" of reopening. But state officials say Illinois does not meet the other conditions to move forward with the gradual reopening because hospitalization metrics continue to tick upward.

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Hospitals were treating 1,352 patients for COVID-19 Sunday night, nearing the previous high in late February, state figures showed. Of those hospitalized, 233 patients were in the intensive care unit and 98 patients were on ventilators.

"Everyone is concerned about the recent spike in numbers because now is not the time for people to let down their guard," said Danny Chun, a spokesman for the Illinois Health and Hospital Association. "Vaccinations are ramping up. The vaccination numbers are really improving in terms of who's getting shots."

Since the vaccination campaign began in December, more than 2 million people -- 16.34% of the state's overall population -- have been fully vaccinated. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require a two-dose regimen, while the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires a single dose.

Vaccine providers are now averaging 103,769 inoculations a day. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 49,192 more doses were given statewide in the last 24 hours.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But amid the expansion efforts, Illinois and federal officials are worried about a potential new surge in infections as more-contagious COVID-19 variants spread. Illinois has now recorded more than 200 cases of the variant that originated in the United Kingdom, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At a White House briefing, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, warned states against loosening restrictions too quickly.

"I'm going to lose the script, and I'm going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom," Walensky said Monday. "We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope. But right now, I'm scared."

She also blamed an "uptick in travel" for the rise in cases.

"We know that travel is up, and I just worry that we will see the surges that we saw over the summer and over the winter again," Walensky said.

Earlier this month, Gov. J.B. Pritzker introduced the Bridge Phase, a stage between the current Phase 4 rules and the final step in reopening Illinois and moving to almost pre-pandemic conditions under Phase 5.

In the Bridge Phase, the state would dial back capacity restrictions for restaurants, conventions, festivals and other social events.

To reach the Bridge Phase, the state must meet the vaccination benchmark; have 20% or more of its ICU beds available for patients; and hold steady on COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths over the most recent 28 days.

State officials on Monday reported five more Illinois residents have died from COVID-19, along with 1,761 new cases, bringing the state's death toll from the disease to 21,256. At least 1,239,589 people have been infected since the pandemic began.

The case positivity rate in Illinois also increased to 3.3% based on a seven-day average, up from 2.6% a week ago.

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