United Center to become mass vaccination site March 10

Residents from across the state eventually will be eligible to register for an appointment there, but sign-ups initially will be limited to people 65 or older.

SHARE United Center to become mass vaccination site March 10
Crews construct a new mass COVID-19 vaccination site on one of United Center’s parking lots in the Near West Side neighborhood, Friday afternoon, Feb. 26, 2021.

Crews construct a new mass COVID-19 vaccination site on one of United Center’s parking lots in the Near West Side neighborhood, Friday afternoon, Feb. 26, 2021. The site, which is set to open on March 10, will be run by Federal Emergency Management Agency and the State of Illinois.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The center of Chicago’s sports world will become a focal point of its pandemic response starting March 10, when a mass COVID-19 vaccination site is launched outside the United Center.

About 6,000 shots will be doled out per day when the community vaccination center operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency is up and running, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Friday with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Sen. Dick Durbin.

“The United Center is one of the best locations for vaccinating large numbers of people in America. It’s easy to get to, is in the midst of a medically underserved community, can handle large crowds and is well known to everyone in Illinois,” Pritzker said.

The state’s highest-profile vaccination site will use a combination of drive-thru and temporary walk-up facilities in the parking lot north of the stadium, FEMA officials said.

Residents from across the state eventually will be eligible to register for an appointment there, but sign-ups initially will be limited to people 65 or older.

That’s been a point of contention between Lightfoot and Pritzker, who expanded vaccine eligibility Thursday to include residents 16 and up with chronic health conditions like diabetes. The city and suburban Cook County aren’t yet expanding eligibility, arguing the vaccine supply is still too low to add more people to the crowd vying for appointments.

The governor said he’s asked Lightfoot and Preckwinkle to open up that process, “but I think that the common view is that we want to get as many people vaccinated as possible, as soon as possible.”

Seniors will get first access to the United Center vaccination appointments, but soon after launching, the expanded pool of recipients will be able to sign up.

Lightfoot called it “our SOS moment: support our seniors.”

“We need moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, your neighbor, your auntie, your mother’s cousin — anybody who can lend a hand to our seniors, we need to get them there, and we need to get them vaccinated,” Lightfoot said.

Ride-hailing giant Uber announced it’ll provide 20,000 free rides to get residents to and from the site, with a focus on South and West side residents.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Coordinating Officer Brian Schiller, left, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, center, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right, listen during a press conference at the Thompson Center Friday in the Loop.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Coordinating Officer Brian Schiller, left, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, center, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right, listen during a press conference at the Thompson Center Friday in the Loop.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Vaccine shipments for the United Center will come to the city separate from Chicago’s weekly allotments it receives from the federal government.

So far, the state has received about 3.2 million doses since December and about 2.5 million of those shots have gone into arms, but only 725,464 people have received both required doses — about 5.7% of the population.

Almost 103,000 shots were given statewide Thursday, the second-highest one-day total ever. Pritzker said he expects those daily numbers to shoot up as supply improves with a third vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson nearing approval.

The so-called “major community vaccination center” planned for the United Center is among a handful of pilot locations being set up by the feds nationwide. According to the White House, the home of the Bulls and Blackhawks was chosen because almost 3 million people live within a 30-minute drive, and it’s close to many communities of color that have borne a disproportionate brunt of the pandemic.

Pritzker said more information about registration for the United Center site would be released over the next two weeks.

Fans haven’t been in the stadium in nearly a year, but it’s already played a key role in the regional pandemic response. The United Center served as a pandemic logistics hub last spring, storing more than 387 tons of donated food.

The United Center, pictured last April, when it served as a food storage site.

The United Center, pictured last April, when it served as a food storage site.

Courtesy of United Center

Jerry Reinsdorf and Rocky Wirtz, who own the teams who play at the United Center and chair the stadium’s joint venture, said in a statement, “It is our hope that by partnering with FEMA to create a mass vaccination center, we are one step closer to putting this pandemic behind us. We are grateful for the dedication of our United Center professionals and our incredibly supportive vendors and partners to help turn these plans into a reality.”

The Bulls returned to the floor arena in mid-December; the Blackhawks resumed play in early January.

There’s still no timetable for when — or if — fans might attend games again, but city leaders are preparing for at least some large-scale summer events elsewhere in Chicago.

“Whether or not we have a summer that looks more like 2019 as opposed to 2020 is going to be wholly dependent upon where we are in the arc of the virus,” Lightfoot said.

That arc has looked promising over the past month. The Illinois Department of Public Health on Friday announced 2,441 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed among 92,256 tests, keeping the state’s average positivity rate at a nearly eight-month low of 2.5%. Chicago’s regional infection rate (2.9%) is as low as it’s been since the virus first surfaced.

The state also reported 55 more COVID-19 deaths, including five Cook County residents in their 40s. Overall, the state’s daily COVID-19 death rate has sunk from 113 at the start of the year, to now roughly 38 per day.

Nearly 1.2 million Illinoisans have been infected since last March, and 20,460 of them have died.

Graph not displaying properly? Click here.

The Latest
Los planes incluyen un auditorio, viviendas, parques y espacios peatonales como parte de un proyecto de 10 años de duración que podría comenzar en 2025.
Una corte de apelaciones le pidió a un juez del Condado de Cook que reconsidere si Kimberlynn Bolaños era mentalmente capaz cuando se declaró culpable en 2016. En una audiencia el martes, el juez hizo arreglos para otra evaluación mental.
At halftime of last season’s game against Minnesota, everything started to get better for the Wildcats. Braun was right at the heart of it.
This coming season will end a nearly four-decade run of games being on TNT.
From Korbin Albert to Maddie Zimmer, we have the list of athletes with ties to area.