City officials push ‘Vaccination Awareness Day’ as COVID-19 cases rise again

“If we can get a lot of students vaccinated now, if we can get a lot of adults vaccinated and boosted ahead of the holidays, right now is the time to do that,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.

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Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady speaks during a press conference where officials gave updates about COVID-19 cases and encouraged vaccinations at City Hall in the Loop, Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 9, 2021.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

City officials on Tuesday urged Chicago families to make their plans for “Vaccination Awareness Day” as COVID-19 cases tick up heading into the holiday season.

The hastily arranged vaccination promotion scheduled for Friday — an effort to get residents to “protect their health on the 12th” — means a day off for Chicago Public Schools students and two hours of paid leave for city workers to encourage inoculations, especially among newly eligible kids aged 5 to 11.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said that with cases on the rise across the Midwest since Oct. 24, it’s critical to vaccinate as many people as possible to stave off another surge.

“If we can get a lot of students vaccinated now, if we can get a lot of adults vaccinated and boosted ahead of the holidays, right now is the time to do that,” Arwady said at a City Hall news conference. “We wait a month, we wait two months — we could be in the middle of a larger surge.”

Daily case counts have jumped 21% in the city since last week, with an average of 382 residents testing positive each day. Nearly 1,400 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized statewide Monday night, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the highest total since Oct. 18.

“Some of that is [because] the weather is getting colder and we’re moving inside. For me, it’s especially an indication that now is the time to get vaccinated if you haven’t yet, and to make sure your kids are getting vaccinated,” Arwady said.

Nearly 70% of Chicagoans 5 or older have gotten at least one shot, with 63.6% considered fully vaccinated.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said the “Vaccination Awareness Day” — which was announced on only eight days’ notice to parents last week — was organized in an effort to boost those rates in time for the holiday season. In order to complete their vaccine series by Christmas or Kwanzaa, residents have to get their first shots this weekend.

“This weekend is the magic time to try to be able to try to accomplish that. That’s what really drove our decision,” Martinez said, insisting it wasn’t due to a shortage of substitute teachers.

The city is hosting numerous vaccine clinics throughout the week. For locations for kids, visit chi.gov/youthvax. Kids and adults who get their shots at city-run events are eligible for $100 in Visa gift cards. That doesn’t apply to adults receiving boosters.

Families are first encouraged to set up an appointment with their doctor or at a pharmacy.

The Chicago Park District is offering Friday programming for kids from families who need child care. More information is available at chicagoparkdistrict.com/schools-out-parks-in.

Also on Tuesday, the city removed Arkansas from its quarantine advisory for unvaccinated travelers, a list that still includes 40 states and one U.S. territory. The only other ones that aren’t currently considered COVID-19 hot spots are Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

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