Tables waiting? Indoor dining for Chicago could be just days away — vaccination could begin for most residents by May 31

Chicago’s regional positivity rate is down to 8% and has been falling steadily since Jan. 8.

SHARE Tables waiting? Indoor dining for Chicago could be just days away — vaccination could begin for most residents by May 31
Patrons enjoy indoor dining at Nando’s Peri-Peri Chicken in Naperville in October.

Patrons enjoy indoor dining at Nando’s Peri-Peri Chicken in Naperville in October.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Illinois’ coronavirus infection numbers took another step in the right direction Tuesday, including in Chicago, where Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s health team could clear the table for bars and restaurants to resume limited indoor service within a few days.

City health officials also suggested the bulk of residents could start getting COVID-19 vaccinations by the end of May.

The Illinois Department of Public Health announced 4,318 new infections were detected among the latest batch of 71,533 tests. That puts the seven-day average statewide positivity rate at 5.7%, its lowest point in nearly three months.

Hospital numbers are back down to October levels, too, with 3,335 COVID-19 patients hospitalized statewide as of Monday night.

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Chicago’s regional positivity rate is down to 8% and has been falling steadily since Jan. 8. After three consecutive days below 8% positivity, the city will move down from Tier 2 to Tier 1 of the governor’s viral mitigation measures.

Pritzker tweaked his plan last week to allow for bars and restaurants to resume indoor service at 25% capacity in Tier 1. The Democratic governor also quietly eased the state’s required hospital metrics over the weekend — citing a launch of state-contracted hospital surge staffing — which has sped up some regions’ progression through the complicated web of mitigation tiers and reopening phases.

Pritzker slapped the entire state with Tier 3 mitigations in November amid a violent statewide resurgence in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Chicago is now in Tier 2 along with suburban Cook County, the north suburban McHenry-Lake County region and the west suburban DuPage-Kane County region. Tier 2 allows for casinos, museums and other large venues to reopen at limited capacity.

Indoor dining service is already back for three regions that have improved to Tier 1: the northeast corner of the state, the north-central region and south-central Illinois.

Bar and restaurant patrons are also allowed inside in two other regions — southern Illinois and the central region that includes Springfield — that have improved below 6.5% positivity to get back to Phase 4 of Pritzker’s reopening plan, which the state had been in until November.

Far south suburban Will and Kankakee counties are still stuck in Tier 3 along with the downstate Metro East region, but they’re all trending in the right direction.

The loosening restrictions come just days after health officials identified Illinois’ first strains of a more infectious variant of COVID-19 that was first identified last month in the United Kingdom.

And the virus is still claiming lives at a rapid clip, with 33 more deaths announced statewide Tuesday, including 21 Chicago area residents. About 79 Illinoisans have died of COVID-19 each day over the last week, though that’s down from an average of about 131 daily fatalities this time last month.

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About 1.1 million Illinoisans have contracted the virus since last March, and 18,291 of them have died.

So far, only 108,479 people statewide are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — less than 1% of the 12.7 million population. A total of almost 509,000 doses have been administered, but most recipients are still awaiting their required second shot.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the city will advance to Phase 1B of its vaccination plan along with the rest of the state next Monday. That’s when essential workers and people 65 and older will be eligible to receive doses. Health care workers and nursing home residents were first in line.

Arwady said the city is tentatively planning to start Phase 1C March 29, administering shots to people 16 and over with underlying health conditions. She also suggested all remaining residents 16 and over could start getting shots May 31.

Pritzker has not outlined dates for the statewide distribution plan beyond Phase 1B, and Arwady acknowledged it’s completely dependent on how many doses the city and state receive from the federal government — and how rapidly they get them.

“A safe, efficient vaccine process is what’s going to get us past COVID,” Arwady said.

Officials have said most residents will likely end up getting their shots at pharmacies or from their primary care doctors, but mass vaccination sites are being set up in the city and suburbs.

Pritzker announced four more of those sites launched Tuesday through Cook County Health at:

  • North Riverside Health Center, 1800 S. Harlem Ave. in North Riverside;
  • Robbins Health Center, 13450 S. Kedzie Ave. in Robbins;
  • Morton East Adolescent Health Center, 2423 S. Austin Blvd. in Cicero; and
  • Cottage Grove Health Center, 1645 Cottage Grove Ave. in Ford Heights.

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