With vaccine arriving and eligibility widening, Pritzker urges frustrated Chicagoans to hit the suburbs — Arwady suggests Indiana

“We now need to get as many shots into arms as quickly as we possibly can,” the governor said. “I want to make sure that people in Chicago know that they are welcome to sign up for our mass vaccination sites.”

SHARE With vaccine arriving and eligibility widening, Pritzker urges frustrated Chicagoans to hit the suburbs — Arwady suggests Indiana
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a mass vaccination site in Forest Park on Thursday. All residents 16 and older will be eligible for shots starting Monday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a mass vaccination site in Forest Park on Thursday. All residents 16 and older will be eligible for shots starting Monday.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

COVID-19 vaccine providers will open 150,000 appointments across the Chicago suburbs next week when eligibility expands to all Illinois residents 16 or older, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday.

Chicago residents can snap up some of those suburban slots since the city won’t make adult vaccine eligibility universal until April 19 — and they’re “absolutely” encouraged to do so, as the entire state faces a third coronavirus surge, Pritzker said.

“We now need to get as many shots into arms as quickly as we possibly can,” the governor said at a west suburban Forest Park mass vaccination site. “We’re reserving some vaccine to make sure we’re targeting particularly vulnerable groups that aren’t fully vaccinated yet, but right now we just want people to show up and get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“I want to make sure that people in Chicago know that they are welcome to sign up for our mass vaccination sites,” Pritzker said.

People get doses of a COVID-19 vaccine Thursday morning at Cook County’s Forest Park Community Vaccination Site.

People get doses of a COVID-19 vaccine Thursday morning at Cook County’s Forest Park Community Vaccination Site.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Last week, the governor criticized Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration for keeping a tighter lid on eligibility due to short supply. Pritzker took a softer stance Thursday, saying the vaccine rollout has been “a complicated endeavor for everybody.”

“There will just be a week there between April 12 and April 19, but if people choose to come to our mass vaccination sites, they’re absolutely welcome,” he said.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady encouraged city residents to hit the road, too, whether it’s to the suburbs, downstate or even across the state line.

“Indiana has got plenty of vaccine and not enough people taking it,” Arwady said during an online Q&A, referencing a federally operated operated mass vaccination site in Gary that had hundreds of appointments available online Thursday afternoon.

“I am frustrated that Chicago residents would need to leave Chicago to get vaccinated, but on the other hand, if you have the means to do that, if you are willing to take a drive … I want Chicago residents to know that they are eligible there,” she said.

Dr. Allison Arwady speaks to reporters outside the University of Illinois Mile Square Health Center in March.

Dr. Allison Arwady speaks to reporters outside the University of Illinois Mile Square Health Center last month.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Chicago-area providers are slated to receive more than 250,000 doses in all next week, including for the 11 collar county mass vaccination sites plus pharmacies, hospitals and other local sites.

After a record-breaking 154,201 shots were given statewide Wednesday, one in five Illinois residents is now fully vaccinated, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The state is vaccinating more people than ever, averaging almost 113,000 shots per day over the past week. About 42% of residents 16 or older have gotten at least one dose, and 73% of seniors have gotten a shot.

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.

Eighty-four county health departments outside the Chicago area have already completely opened eligibility. Pritzker allowed them to do so last week, citing falling demand and rising infections.

Previously, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle had mostly stayed in lockstep with Lightfoot in remaining a step behind the rest of the state in opening vaccine eligibility. On Thursday, Preckwinkle said “to get to the other side of this extraordinary moment, we need to continue vaccinating as many people as possible.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle speaks during a news conference at Cook County’s Forest Park Community Vaccination Site on Thursday.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle speaks during a news conference at Cook County’s Forest Park Community Vaccination Site on Thursday.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

But she tempered talk of “another step toward normalcy” to note that daily COVID-19 caseloads have more than doubled across the suburbs since early March, part of a troubling statewide trend.

“If we have trends in the wrong direction, we will not hesitate to tighten restrictions on gatherings indoors or outdoors. Our future rests upon the decisions made in this critical moment,” Preckwinkle said.

Illinois’ infection rate is still less than a third of what it was during the worst days of the pandemic last fall — but it’s doubled in the last four weeks.

Officials reported 3,739 new cases of the deadly respiratory disease were diagnosed statewide among 97,741 tests. The state’s testing positivity rate is at 4.2%, its highest point since the end of January and up from 2.1% on March 12.

Nightly COVID-19 hospitalizations are up 66% since then, with hospitals treating nearly 1,800 COVID-19 patients Wednesday night.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at the Cook County’s Forest Park Community Vaccination Site on Thursday.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at the Cook County’s Forest Park Community Vaccination Site on Thursday.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

“Yes, we have a vaccine and we are elated about that, but it doesn’t mean that this pandemic is completely over,” Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “We do need to continue to wear our masks before we can return to what we were doing pre-pandemic, in the way we did it pre-pandemic.”

The state also reported 34 more coronavirus deaths, including that of a Cook County man in his 30s.

The virus has claimed 21,457 Illinois lives over the last year, as almost 1.3 million residents have tested positive.

For help finding a vaccine appointment, visit coronavirus.illinois.gov or call (833) 621-1284.

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