State's 'Bridge Phase' stalls, but vaccine hunters find second doses closer to home
While signs show that access to COVID-19 vaccines is getting easier in more parts of Illinois, state health officials Tuesday announced plans to indefinitely postpone the "Bridge Phase" that would allow even more capacity at businesses and social gatherings.
Illinois Department of Public Health officials announced the mid-April start of that phase was being pushed to May at the earliest because of rising COVID-19 hospitalizations.
"As long as new hospital admissions continue to increase, the state will not advance to the 'Bridge Phase' and on to Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois Plan," an IDPH news release stated Tuesday.
Requirements under the state's phased-in reopening plan included 28 straight days of stable or declining hospitalizations and deaths from the respiratory disease in order to move to the "Bridge Phase." There, the state would dial back capacity restrictions for restaurants, conventions, festivals and other social events.
According to IDPH figures, hospitals statewide are treating an average of 1,301 patients a day for COVID-19 over the past week, up more than 15% in 11 days.
Less than two weeks ago, hospitals were averaging treatment of 1,125 patients a day over the course of the week.
Patientloads in each of the four IDPH suburban regions are also all rising. Two weeks ago, hospitals in suburban Cook County alone were averaging 325 COVID-19 patients a day for the week, but they are now averaging 418 patients a day this week, IDPH records show.
On Tuesday, hospitals statewide reported treating 1,396 patients for COVID-19 infections. Of those hospitalized, 308 are in intensive care.
IDPH officials also reported 17 more Illinois residents have died from COVID-19, while another 2,404 new cases were diagnosed.
The state's death toll from the respiratory disease is now 21,273, and 1,241,993 people have been infected.
The state's seven-day case positivity rate is at 3.4%. The state's rate hasn't been that high for nearly two months, according to IDPH figures. Case positivity shows the percentage of tests that resulted in new cases of the disease. A seven-day average is used to smooth any anomalies in the daily reporting of new cases and tests.
Meanwhile, IDPH records also show vaccine providers throughout the state are averaging 105,040 shots a day over the past week after 86,812 more COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered throughout Illinois in the latest 24 hours recorded.
That brings the total number of vaccine inoculations performed statewide to 5,664,426, according to IDPH figures.
And there are signs that access to vaccine doses is getting easier as people who once traveled hundreds of miles for first doses are finding second doses much closer to home.
Kristi Robertts Murillo was able to shave about 80 minutes off the drive from her Lindenhurst home to get her second shot after having to travel to Rockford for her first dose.
"I didn't have a problem going back, but I'd rather not drive the hour and a half," Robertts Murillo said. "I was worried that I was going to screw up the process at the Walmart in Rockford where I got my first shot, but they were like, 'OK. Thanks for letting us know.'"
Several other suburban residents who once traveled multiple counties away to get inoculated are reporting better opportunities nearby for their second dose.
"I drove to a Walgreens in Bloomington for my first dose," Palatine resident Shawn Eklund Lenaghan reported. "Received my second dose at a Cook County (Public Health Department) facility in Arlington Heights."
Changing appointments for the second dose doesn't seem to be putting much of a strain on the system, either, health officials reported.
"This is not really an issue," said Don Bolger, a spokesman for the Cook County Public Health Department. "It doesn't matter where someone was vaccinated the first time. However, the vaccine brand does matter. Both doses should either be Pfizer or Moderna."
Vaccine providers at national pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens are sometimes finding themselves with unused doses at the end of the day because people missed an appointment or found a second dose elsewhere.
CVS officials noted their pharmacy teams work with patients to find the location that is most convenient for both doses, and patients can schedule a second dose at a different location during the initial signup.
That said, most people getting vaccinated are getting both doses at the same location, pharmacy chain representatives said.