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Vaccine eligibility expands in suburban Cook County as state reports 135K more shots administered

Cook County residents 16 or older with chronic health conditions are now eligible to sign up for COVID-19 vaccine appointments that will begin next week.

Nurse Carla Taylor-Wilson vaccinates Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul against COVID-19 at Advocate Health Care’s vaccine clinic at Imani Village in the Cottage Grove Heights neighborhood on Friday.
Nurse Carla Taylor-Wilson vaccinates Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul against COVID-19 at Advocate Health Care’s vaccine clinic at Imani Village in the Cottage Grove Heights neighborhood on Friday.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Public health officials on Friday announced 135,525 more COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered statewide as Cook County expands eligibility for the coveted doses.

The Cook County Department of Public Health started accepting appointments at noon Friday from people 16 and older with underlying health conditions. Vaccinations for the expanded pool of recipients will start Monday at the county’s four mass vaccination sites. Other providers in the county have been asked to open registration as well.

Signups are open at vaccine.cookcountyil.gov. The county’s signup hotline is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., at (833) 308-1988.

The expansion means hundreds of thousands of additional suburban residents can try to snag appointments, including those with cancer, COPD, diabetes, heart disease, sickle cell disease, pulmonary disease and other such “co-morbidities” that put people at higher risk for severe coronavirus cases.

Under guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the county’s newly eligible recipients also include pregnant women, smokers, organ transplant recipients and people who are obese.

COVID-19 vaccine doses administered by day

Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times

Source: Illinois Department of Public Health

Graph not displaying properly? Click here.

Cook County’s expansion marks the latest wrinkle in what has turned into a confusing web of overlapping eligibility criteria across the metro area.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker opened appointments last month statewide to people with underlying health conditions — what the Democratic governor dubbed “Phase 1B+” — but most Chicago-area health departments opted against that guidance due to scarce supply. Chicago receives its vaccine shipments from the federal government separately from the rest of the state, and Pritzker has given local health departments leeway to distribute doses as they see fit.

While the county finally enters Phase 1B+ Monday, city officials earlier this week said Chicago will bypass that intermediate phase in favor of a March 29 move to Phase 1C. Besides the letter, the only difference between those phases is that 1C includes an expanded pool of essential worker groups (hospitality, food service, information technology, media, communications and more).

Pritzker, meanwhile, will open eligibility for the rest of the state to all residents 16 and over starting April 12. The governor announced that Thursday as part of his new “bridge” plan to start gradually reopening businesses as early as next month, once 70% of seniors have gotten at least one dose.

The governor announced Friday that some groups of essential workers will be given the green light before then. Starting Monday, higher education staff, government workers and journalists will be able to try to set up appointments, and starting March 29, restaurant workers, construction workers and religious leaders will be eligible.

That still won’t apply in Chicago and Cook County. Officials there haven’t set a date on opening the full eligibility floodgates but have indicated they’ll hedge closer to the directive from President Joe Biden urging states to open appointments to all adults by May 1. Either way, phases 1B+ and 1C include the majority of Chicago and Cook County residents, officials said.

About 28% of adults statewide have gotten at least one shot so far, including about 60% of people 65 or older, according to Pritzker. The feds have delivered about 800,000 doses to Illinois this week. Those weekly allotments are expected to top 1 million by April.

Thursday’s 135,525 administered doses marked Illinois’ second-highest one-day shot total. On average over the past week, the state has vaccinated 102,775 people per day.

“COVID-19 has not gone away,” Pritzker said at a Carbondale news conference. “Not yet a third of our population has been vaccinated, so although the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter, we’re not there yet.”

New COVID-19 cases by day

Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times

Source: Illinois Department of Public Health

Graph not displaying properly? Click here.

An even smaller portion of the population is fully vaccinated — about 1.7 million residents, or 13.3% of the state, after the latest doses administered Thursday.

The Illinois Department of Public Health also reported 2,380 new cases of the disease were diagnosed among 92,161 tests. That raised the state’s rolling average positivity rate for a third straight day, now up to 2.5%. The infection rate had hit an all-time low of 2.1% last weekend.

And the virus claimed 12 more lives, including seven Chicago-area residents. Illinois’ current average of 19 deaths per day over the past week has shrunk by more than half compared to mid-February.

COVID-19 hospital admissions remain near an all-time low, too, with 1,132 beds occupied as of Thursday night.

Over the past year, more than 1.2 million Illinoisans have been infected with COVID-19, and 21,034 of them have died.