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Pritzker lays out vaccine distribution plan as 148 more die of coronavirus

About 23,000 of Illinois’ first vaccines will be sent directly to Chicago, with the remaining 86,000 earmarked for the state’s 50 counties suffering the highest per capita coronavirus death rates.

Emilio Cici, 42, of Burr Ridge, gets a shot as he participates in a clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by UK drugmaker AstraZeneca last month in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Rush University Medical Center.
Emilio Cici, 42, of Burr Ridge, gets a shot as he participates in a clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by UK drugmaker AstraZeneca last month in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Rush University Medical Center.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday laid out his public health team’s plan for distributing Illinois’ first shipments of coronavirus vaccine later this month, as officials announced COVID-19 has killed 148 more residents and spread to an additional 10,526 people statewide.

Nine months after the coronavirus first turned life upside down, Illinois is expected to receive 109,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from the federal government by Dec. 19.

That vaccine, which awaits federal approval but is expected to receive it Dec. 10, requires extremely cold storage, and is administered in two doses, three weeks apart.

About 23,000 of Illinois’ first vaccines will be sent to Chicago, with the remaining 86,000 earmarked for the state’s 50 counties suffering the highest per capita coronavirus death rates. That includes suburban Cook County, plus Lake, Kane, DuPage, Will and Kankakee counties. Local health departments are responsible for coming up with their own community distribution plans.

Under what Pritzker called “Phase 1A” of distribution, the first in line for vaccines are frontline hospital and health care workers, followed by long-term care facility residents, essential workers and people 65 or older with underlying health conditions.

Illinois’ first shipment won’t even cover all its health care workers, but the state expects to receive many more allotments in subsequent weeks, especially if, as expected, the Moderna vaccine also is approved soon.

There are about 655,000 health care workers in Illinois, including 162,000 in Chicago. About 110,000 residents live in long-term care facilities, with 16,000 in Chicago.

“The goal here is to fortify the health care workforce by removing these most-exposed workers from the cycle of quarantine, illness and infection, as well as protecting our most vulnerable residents,” Pritzker said.

It could be months before people with low risk factors are able to get a shot. That day can’t come soon enough as the coronavirus continues killing more Illinoisans than ever before.

With the latest 148 deaths, COVID-19 has claimed almost 1,000 lives in Illinois in the last week alone, averaging about 137 deaths per day over that span — the worst stretch the state has suffered so far through nine months of the pandemic.

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During the worst week of the first wave in mid-May, about 117 Illinoisans were dying of COVID-19 each day.

The latest victims included 62 Chicago-area residents, a DuPage County man in his 30s and two Cook County women in their 40s.

The unprecedented surge in deaths follows the predictable pattern health officials have been laying out for months: an October spike in cases, leading to a November spike in hospitalizations and record numbers of fatalities so far in December.

The 10,526 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed among 112,634 tests; that lowered the state’s average positivity rate a tenth of a percentage point to 10.3%.

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The governor has said he’s cautiously optimistic Illinois has seen the worst of its resurgence, but that’s no guarantee as his health team braces for yet another uptick in cases due to super-spreading Thanksgiving gatherings last week.

The state’s hospitals, while still treating more coronavirus patients than during the first wave, have seen a gradual decline in admissions since Nov. 22. As of Thursday night, 5,453 beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients, with 1,153 of them receiving intensive care and 703 using ventilators.

Some parts of the state are still close to a critical point, though, with only 17 ICU beds available for the entire southern Illinois region, and 20 ICU beds available in both the central Illinois region, which includes Springfield, and the downstate Metro East region, which includes East St. Louis.

It could still be another week before Illinois sees any noticeable increase in cases due to transmission over the holiday weekend.

“We still have to get through this period that people have talked about as a surge upon the surge,” Pritzker said. “But I’m always hopeful when I see the numbers going the right direction.”

Since March, 10.9 million COVID-19 tests have been administered in Illinois, with at least 770,088 people contracting the virus and 12,974 of those dying.