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Vaccinations surging — but so are new COVID-19 cases: ‘It’s very challenging. I worry about it’

The state is vaccinating more people per day than ever, but COVID-19 infections are at their highest point in 10 weeks and have shown no sign of slowing down.

People line up for COVID-19 vaccine doses Thursday at Cook County’s Forest Park Community Vaccination Site at 7630 Roosevelt Road in Forest Park. About 2.6 million Illinois residents have been fully vaccinated so far, or about 20% of the population.
People line up for COVID-19 vaccine doses Thursday at Cook County’s Forest Park Community Vaccination Site at 7630 Roosevelt Road in Forest Park. About 2.6 million Illinois residents have been fully vaccinated so far, or about 20% of the population.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Illinois public health officials on Friday reported a second straight record-setting day for COVID-19 vaccinations — but the state also hit a worrying milestone by logging more than 4,000 new cases of the disease for the first time in 10 weeks as the latest coronavirus surge builds momentum.

With 164,462 doses administered Thursday, Illinois is vaccinating more people than ever, at an average clip of 118,336 shots per day over the last week, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

That still hasn’t been enough to tamp down a sharp rise in infections over the past month, as most key metrics have almost doubled.

With another 4,004 residents testing positive for the virus — the most in a day since Jan. 29 — about 3,122 Illinoisans have contracted COVID-19 each day over the past week. That rate is up 91% compared to the first week of March, when the state was reporting an average of 1,663 daily cases.

The statewide testing positivity rate has doubled to 4.2% since March 12, and serious cases of the disease are up by 67% over that span, with more than 1,800 COVID-19 patients hospitalized Thursday night.

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Even though the uptick has thrown off Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan for the state, he said “we are headed in the right direction” overall thanks to the vaccination ramp-up.

“It’s very challenging. I worry about it,” Pritzker said during a news conference in south suburban Robbins. “I’ve watched these numbers every day, so I’m highly hypersensitive to what direction is the state going, what do we need to do next, but we also had a record number of vaccinations.

“Right now, what we’re trying to do is surge vaccine across the state where we see these positivity rates going up,” the governor said. “Basically, people who are ending up in the hospital are people who have not been vaccinated, so guess what? If you get vaccinated, you’re highly unlikely to end up going to the hospital.”

Pritzker urged residents to keep “wearing their mask and doing the right thing, so we can bring those hospitalizations and those ICU beds down.”

Officials also reported another 21 residents died with the virus, which is about average for the state and has stayed relatively low even compared to February. But experts agree an increase in fatal cases typically lags several weeks behind surges like the one Illinois is currently weathering.

The virus has claimed 21,476 Illinois lives so far. Almost 1.3 million residents have tested positive in the last year.

Twice as many residents have been fully vaccinated — almost 2.7 million people, or nearly 21% of the population.

Starting Monday, all residents 16 and up will be eligible to receive a shot, though Chicago vaccine providers won’t expand eligibility to all adults until April 19.

Officials are urging city residents to lock up an appointment wherever they can, whether it’s in the suburbs, downstate or even in Indiana. Illinoisans are eligible for shots at a federally run site in Gary.

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