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New vaccination site will be dedicated to essential union workers

The site will handle about 1,200 coronavirus vaccinations every week at the start and has capacity to expand.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during a press conference at a mass vaccination site for union members deemed essential, run by the Chicago Federation of Labor, at International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399 on the South Side, Monday, March 29, 2021.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday announced a new vaccination site in partnership with the Chicago Federation of Labor that will help get doses of COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of essential union workers.

Lightfoot said the site will be able to handle about 1,200 vaccinations weekly at first and can grow to 6,000 weekly as vaccine supply increases.

The announcement comes as the city expands eligibility requirements to what’s called Phase 1C. That expansion includes residents ages 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions, such as chronic kidney disease or cancer.

It also will allow vaccination for those working in construction, retail, restaurants and all other essential workers who had not previously been eligible.

“You all know this, but it bears repeating. Chicago is 100% a union town,” the mayor said in making the announcement at the vaccination site, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399, 2260 S. Grove St.

“It’s our union workers who make up the backbone of this city.”

Those wishing to be vaccinated at Local 399 must live or work in Chicago, hold a current union card or be a union retiree, and qualify under the city’s current eligibility criteria.

Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter said this will be the nation’s first vaccination site run by the labor movement for union workers. It will focus on inoculating those affected disproportionately by the pandemic. The group has 300 affiliated unions and a combined half-million working members.

The labor federation has an ownership stake in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Union members deemed essential wait in line to get a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site run by the Chicago Federation of Labor at International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399 on the South Side, Monday, March 29, 2021.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

“Two-thirds of our members are Black and Brown workers, and we must do everything we can to get this vaccine into arms as quickly as possible,” Reiter said. “Let’s move past this pandemic once and for all.”

Union members interested in getting vaccinated should visit www.chicagolabor.org/vaccine for more information or to schedule an appointment.

Lightfoot said 84% of residents in Chicago are now eligible to receive vaccines but cautioned supply remains limited. She also warned against thinking the deadly pandemic is behind us.

“Right now, we are seeing a troubling uptick in our case positivity and daily case rates,” Lightfoot said. “COVID-19 is still here, it is still killing people in our city every day, so we have got to remain diligent.”

The Chicago Department of Public Health reported 438 new confirmed cases, 3 deaths and a test positivity rate of 4% — up from 3.1% last week.

Lightfoot said the spike in cases mostly comes from adults, ages 18 to 39, living on the North and Northwest sides, who participated in bar crawls or played on a sports team.

Lightfoot stopped short of blaming the opening of bars or athletic events for the uptick, instead pointing the finger at individuals not wearing masks or not adhering to other safety guidelines.

Illinois public health officials on Monday also reported its seven-day positivity rate jumped to 3.8%, up from 2.9% last week. Statewide, officials also announced 1,761 new coronavirus cases, the lowest in the last seven days. Five additional deaths — the second lowest daily tally this month — raised the state’s total to 21,256.

Hospitalization continues its upward trend over the past two weeks, with 1,352 COVID-19 patients occupying hospital beds within the past 24 hours. Of those hospitalized, 280 patients were in the ICU and 128 patients were on ventilators.

The state also reported that as of midnight Sunday, nearly 5.6 million vaccines have been administered in Illinois, including 49,192 doses on Sunday.

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.

Hundreds of union members deemed essential get doses of a COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site run by the Chicago Federation of Labor at International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399 on the South Side, Monday, March 29, 2021.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times