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Pritzker to extend vaccine eligibility to all adult non-Chicagoans in state on April 12, sources say

The governor is expected to make the announcement at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the Thompson Center. He will also describe a bridged reopening that will allow for “a gradual increase in capacity limitations” as the state vaccinates more people and continues to monitor case numbers, one source said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker puts on his mask during a COVID-19 update at the James R. Thompson Center in January.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker puts on his mask during a COVID-19 update at the James R. Thompson Center in January.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Gov. J.B. Pritzker plans to expand coronavirus vaccine eligibility to all Illinois residents over 16 — except Chicagoans — starting April 12, and initiate a new “bridge” phase as part of his plan to reopen the state, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The governor is expected to make the announcement at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the Thompson Center.

Chicago receives its own federal vaccine allotment and sets its own eligibility rules. City Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Wednesday that “most Chicagoans” could get in line for the vaccine by March 29, with an expansion to those over 16 with underlying conditions and targeted groups of essential workers.

Pritzker had already made a comparable expansion for the rest of the state last month. On April 12, the only requirement for the state’s non-Chicagoans will be that they be over the age of 16.

President Joe Biden last week urged states to make all adults eligible for vaccines by May 1, a deadline Pritzker predicted the state would beat.

The bridged reopening Pritzker is planning to announce on Thursday will allow for “a gradual increase in capacity limitations” as the state vaccinates more people and continues to monitor case numbers, one source said.

All of the state’s regions will move into the intermediate phase — there will be additional metrics to meet, involving new case numbers and the state’s positivity rate, to get to Phase 5, which is a full reopening, the source said. The state has been in Phase 4 since last summer.

Pritzker said Wednesday, saying he expects to unveil a plan this week that is “not only healthy for everybody, but also good for the economy.”

Part of the challenge to lifting restrictions will be handling threats posed by newer, faster spreading coronavirus variants — but the governor suggested that was not an insurmountable hurdle to reopening.

“Let me be clear to everybody,” the governor said at a news conference in downstate Decatur. “I am more optimistic today than I have ever been throughout this pandemic, about where we are going and getting to the end of the pandemic.”

During an earlier stop in downstate Lincoln, Pritzker said he had talked to a wide variety of experts in crafting the plan.

“Let me just say, we’re working with industry leaders, we’re working with our doctors at [the Illinois Department of Public Health] as well as other experts in the state to make sure that the phased opening — reopening — is not only healthy for everybody, but also good for the economy as we move it forward,” Pritzker said at an unrelated morning news conference.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker talks about his reopening plans at the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Lincoln on Wednesday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker talks about his reopening plans at the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Lincoln on Wednesday.
From Facebook livestream

Wednesday was the first time Pritzker personally addressed reopening the state since his public health chief revealed a plan was imminent.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, broke the news about the reopening plan Monday during an Illinois Senate Health Committee hearing. She told senators a plan was in the works, news the governor’s spokeswoman quickly confirmed but did not elaborate on.

During Monday’s hearing, Ezike said masks would continue to be “a mainstay” as the state begins its reopening process.

She also said moving from the current Phase 4, which the state has been in since last summer, to Phase 5 of the state’s coronavirus reopening plan likely won’t be “an on-off switch, but may be a dial,” meaning that the state may see at least one more intermediary phase of lessening coronavirus mitigations before a full reopening.

“It really does involve how much of our most vulnerable population has been vaccinated, and — of course — that starts with our seniors,” Ezike said. “So, once we see like a great majority of our seniors vaccinated that should get us to another level, and then we can start having at least larger size gatherings, like everything open up with some kind of capacities.”

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike answers questions from the media last  year.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike answers questions from the media in November.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

Pritzker has also voiced concerns in recent days of the danger posted by the COVID-19 variants and the need to vaccinate as many people as possible to stay ahead of them.

Three coronavirus variants have surfaced in Illinois since the start of the year. Researchers have identified cases of other new, more infectious strains first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.

But Pritzker sounded an optimistic note on Wednesday.

“I am not a doctor,” the governor said. “I listen to doctors. There are some who are saying be extra careful and cautious, and there are others who are saying it looks reasonably good at the pace that we are vaccinating people that we may be beating the variant as fast as it may move. We are moving at a reasonable clip to vaccinate everybody, and so we may be able to get past it without having another surge.”

Rachel Hinton and Mitchell Armentrout reported from Chicago, Andrew Sullender from Springfield