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Chicago sees ‘quantum leap’ in COVID-19 cases — widening Lightfoot-Pritzker split over vaccine plans

A statewide uptick in coronavirus cases has already pushed back Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan to begin loosening more business restrictions, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot said it means additional reopenings won’t be happening in Chicago anytime soon. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks as Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens during a news conference about the opening of the new COVID-19 mass vaccination site outside the United Center earlier this month.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks as Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens during a news conference about the opening of the new COVID-19 mass vaccination site outside the United Center earlier this month.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Illinois’ COVID-19 uptick took another jump Wednesday as Chicago’s “quantum leap” in cases raised more concerns of a potential third surge of the virus, officials said.

Another 2,592 residents across the state were diagnosed with the virus among 77,727 tests, which lowered Illinois’ average positivity rate to 3.3%, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

But that key metric has shot up 57% overall in under three weeks, while COVID-19 hospitalizations have jumped 24% over the same time frame. More than 1,400 beds were occupied by coronavirus patients Tuesday night, the most the state’s hospitals have treated since Feb. 24.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot agree the uptick has halted any talk of further reopening — but they’re still far apart on when all adults should be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine dose.

The governor voiced concern Wednesday over the city’s timetable for that move, saying “I think that they will want to do that sooner than they are currently planning to.”

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.

Nearly 500 Chicagoans are testing positive every day, an average figure that has jumped 37% over the past week, according to the city’s Department of Public Health.

“That’s a quantum leap from where we were even three weeks ago,” Lightfoot said at a Far South Side news conference. “That is concerning. And that is obviously dictating that we have to proceed with caution as we open up. We’re not gonna see anything more significant in the reopening front until we see those numbers stabilize and start to come down.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at a West Pullman neighborhood news conference Wednesday morning.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at a West Pullman neighborhood news conference Wednesday morning.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

North Side sees cases spike

Increases have been especially pronounced on the North Side as young people let their guard down against the virus, officials have said.

“Seeing the uptick on the North Side, we are concerned. And we’re urging members of those communities — whether it’s Old Town, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Portage Park, Old Irving — that’s where we’re seeing the increase and we’re seeing it in the 18-to-39-year old cohort across different races, we’re concerned,” Lightfoot said.

Starting Monday, Chicago will have three mass vaccination sites — at a conference center adjacent to Wrigley Field, at Chicago State University and at the United Center parking lots.

What the city needs most is more vaccine, Lightfoot said.

“We’ve got a growing demand that we need to meet. But we can’t do that without more vaccine from the federal government. I don’t want to commit to something we can’t fulfill because we don’t have enough vaccine. ... We’ve got to get the doses here in Chicago,” she said.

But Pritzker said he’s also “concerned” about the city’s vaccination pace and not just its supply, which it receives from the federal government separately from the rest of Illinois.

In taking what he called “aggressive” action against the increase last week, Pritzker gave local health departments the OK to open vaccine eligibility to all adults in areas where demand for appointments has waned, before he opens eligibility across the entire state April 12. He suggested Chicago should follow suit.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a South Elgin news conference Wednesday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a South Elgin news conference Wednesday.
State of Illinois livestream

“I’m concerned, I will be honest with you, that the city of Chicago seems to want to delay beyond April 12 in terms of opening up to everybody,” Pritzker said at an unrelated news conference. “I think that they will want to do that sooner than they are currently planning to, but they get their doses directly from the federal government [and] are making some different decisions there.

“But let me just be clear, we should be getting every dose into every arm that we possibly can, beginning as soon as we possibly can. ... We are getting many more doses than we were even last week. That’s a great thing and we want to make sure that we’re running people through these vaccination centers as quickly as possible.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, center, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right, listen during a news conference at the Thompson Center in February.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, center, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right, listen during a news conference at the Thompson Center last month.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file.

Third highest shot total Tuesday

Chicago and suburban Cook County moved this week to Phase 1C of vaccine eligibility, meaning the majority of city-area residents — anyone 16 or older with chronic health conditions, plus essential workers — can try to find an appointment. Local officials have said they’ll lean more towards President Joe Biden’s directive to open appointments to all by May 1.

Illinois is vaccinating more people than ever as the state’s rolling average is up to a new high of 109,538 shots doled out per day. On Tuesday, 137,445 shots went into arms, the state’s third-highest daily total yet.

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.

About 5.8 million vaccinations have been performed in all, with almost 2.1 million residents fully immunized — just shy of 17% of the population.

COVID-19 deaths have not increased with the state’s positivity spike so far, but experts have said that’ll likely happen over the next several weeks — a delayed pattern that has already played out twice in Illinois over the past year.

Officials reported 28 more fatalities Wednesday, including those of three Cook County residents in their 40s.

More than 1.2 million Illinoisans have contracted the virus overall, and 21,301 of them have died.