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Illinois Coronavirus Updates: New Vaccination Sites, Chicago Reopening Lakefront

Here are the latest COVID headlines from around the state

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The city of Chicago is reopening the lakefront and hundreds of playgrounds in the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Meanwhile, the state of Illinois is set to add two additional mass-vaccination sites.

Here are the latest COVID headlines from around the state:

Chicago Prioritizes COVID Vaccine Access for Homeless, Those in Congregant Living Settings

City health officials are working to ensure equitable access to the coronavirus vaccine, and part of that strategy is to prioritize vaccinations for homeless Chicagoans.

“I’m so pleased to be receiving my second dose of the COVID vaccine,” Constance Foster, a resident at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago, said.

Foster was one of 170 residents and staff at the mission who received their second doses of the vaccine on Tuesday, part of the city’s effort to ensure that those individuals who live and work in congregant settings can get access to the treatment as soon as possible.

According to Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, more than 2,000 doses of the vaccine have been given to homeless shelters during the pandemic, an important part of the more than half-million COVID vaccine doses administered throughout the city. “Long term care facilities or homeless shelters where we’re at, where we’ve disproportionally seen a lot of cases, we know it’s hard to always have all of the distancing and all of those things in place,” she said.

 “We are so grateful to CDPH for providing these vaccines. Prioritizing people experiencing homelessness and prioritizing people in Black and Brown communities is critical,” Dr. Alex Porte, a physician at the mission, added.

CDPH says that part of its push to help ensure equitable access to the vaccine is ensuring that it prioritizes vaccine doses for communities that lack primary care and health insurance.

Read more here.

Are COVID Vaccinations Free? Top Chicago Health Official Addresses Concerns

Chicago health officials are reminding residents that the coronavirus vaccine itself is free, but the city is also evaluating what it can do when clinics pass on administrative costs to patients when administering the treatment.

During a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said that patients aren’t allowed to be charged for the vaccine itself because of the agreements between the federal government and companies and clinics that are in charge of administering the vaccine.

“I want people in Chicago to hear that they should not be billed directly for receiving a COVID vaccine, unless they're receiving other services that are associated with that visit,” she said.

The vaccine itself is delivered to clinics free of charge through agreements between pharmaceutical companies and the federal government, according to Arwady. She did caution residents that there are other small costs that could be incurred if a patient receives other treatment or services during their visit to receive the vaccine.

“Where people are seeing a provider for something that goes beyond the COVID vaccine, like if (they’re) seeing their primary care doctor and having my regular check in and getting lab work done, and then get the COVID vaccine as part of that visit, you still are able to bill for that visit,” she said. “It gets complicated relatively quickly.”

Arwady says the issue of additional charges related to the vaccine has occurred most frequently when patients visit urgent care clinics and other similar facilities for treatment, but that the CDPH is looking into those issues.

Chicago's Top Doctor Shares Biggest Concern With Emerging COVID Variants

Chicago's top doctor said she's less worried about the current variants being monitored in the U.S., because she has a bigger concern she's monitoring.

The U.S. is monitoring new variants of the coronavirus emerging across the U.S., some of which have already been identified in cases in Illinois.

The main concern in the city, Arwady said, has been the variant first reported out of the U.K., which she noted has been detected in at least a dozen cases in the city, but more across the state.

"That's the one that is thought to be more infectious meaning more contagious, but the vaccine continues to be very protective against it as we saw in in this trial here," Arwady said during a Facebook Live Tuesday.

Outside of the U.K. variant, others that originated in South Africa and Brazil have also appeared in the U.S., raising some concerns.

The Illinois Department of Public Health revealed earlier this month that the first case of the coronavirus variant B.1.351, first identified in South Africa, was found in the state.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the current variants "spread more easily and quickly than other variants."

But experts believe the current vaccines in the U.S. provide at least some level of protection against these variants, though Arwady noted one of the three strains poses a bigger risk than others and that is the variant out of South Africa.

"That one has been shown, particularly some of the vaccines, to have decreased effectiveness against that strain," Arwady said. "So the Pfizer and the Moderna continue to be protective against that strain, but not as protective, like it backs off a little bit. And then unfortunately the AstraZeneca vaccine, which we don't have here yet, but it was the one that they were planning to use in South Africa, really was not very protective. It was like less than 50% protective. And so, South Africa actually stopped its vaccination campaign because they did not want to be vaccinating people with a vaccine that was not protective against that barrier. That's the kind of thing that makes me the most concerned."

Read more here.

COVID-19 Positivity Rate Hits Record Low Since Pandemic Began, Chicago's Top Doc Says

Chicago's coronavirus positivity rate is the lowest it's been since the pandemic began, the city's top doctor announced Tuesday.

In a Facebook Live event, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady announced the city's positivity rate is sitting at 3.2%, which is the lowest rate since the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Chicago.

The announcement comes days after the city hit the second lowest positivity rate since the pandemic began on Friday, where 3.5% of tests returned were positive COVID-19 results, Arwady said.

Arwady noted that over the summer, Chicago's positivity rate dropped below 4%, but never to the level the city recorded Tuesday.

COVID-19 testing has decreased throughout the city, but Arwady said this metric would not cause the positivity rate to drop. Rather, she explained that should testing decrease, positivity rate would typically increase.

Chicago's is averaging 257 new COVID-19 cases per day, Arwady said, which is down from the over 3,000 cases a day recorded at the peak of the virus. On Friday, Chicago was recording 323 new coronavirus cases daily.

The city's daily case count is also below the cutoff that marks a "high-risk area," according to Chicago guidance, which is one factor allowing the city to resume higher capacity indoor dining.

These Locations Aren't Joining Illinois in Expanding Phase 1B Eligibility. Here's Why

Several Chicago-area suburbs and Chicago itself will not be joining Illinois in expanding the list of people eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations in Phase 1B of the vaccine rollout.

Chicago was among the first to announce it would not be joining the state. They were later joined by suburban Cook County and DuPage County, which announced a similar decision.

"We're not ready at this point ," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a Facebook Live video Tuesday. "The city of Chicago, Cook County, Evanston, DuPage County, Stickney - there may be others. All said, we're just not at a point to be able to move ahead."

DuPage County's Health Department said in a statement it can't expand eligibility "until vaccine supply increases."

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in a joint statement with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot echoed those claims, saying "we are not being supplied with enough doses that would allow us to expand eligibility in these phases."

According to Arwady, more than 950,000 Chicago residents would become eligible if the city expanded Phase 1B under the state's guidelines.

"We cannot add a million people to the about almost a million people including the 1A, who are already in competition for the existing doses," she said. "It'll just make everybody more frustrated. So as we have more vaccine, we definitely will be opening up and go from there."

In a note to residents, Evanston said it did not anticipate being able to expand Phase 1B eligibility "due to the large number of individuals 65 years and older in Evanston who are currently eligible for vaccines as part of Phase 1b, and the limited supply of vaccines available to date."

Read more here.

Coronavirus in Illinois: 1,665 New Cases, 27 Additional Deaths, Over 43K Vaccinations

Health officials in Illinois are reporting 1,665 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, along with 27 additional deaths attributed to the virus.

According to the latest data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, Tuesday's new cases bring the state to 1,177,320 cases of the virus since the pandemic began last year. A total of 20,330 deaths have been reported as a result of the virus.

The seven-day positivity rate remained the same Tuesday, with 2.8% of all tests coming back with positive results, according to IDPH. The positivity rate on individuals tested dropped slightly to 3%.

Over the last 24 hours, state laboratories received 61,400 test specimens, with 17,721,561 tests performed during the pandemic in all.

Hospitalizations in the state continue to drop, with 1,488 patients currently hospitalized due to COVID-19. Of those patients, 361 are currently in intensive care units, while 172 are on ventilators.

In terms of vaccinations, numbers have continued to be impacted by weather conditions that limited deliveries of new doses in recent days. A total of 43,282 doses of the vaccine were administered in Illinois Monday, with the seven-day rolling average now standing at 55,917 doses per day.

A total of 2,307,685 vaccine doses have been delivered to providers in Illinois, along with 445,200 doses delivered to pharmacies as part of a federal program to inoculate staff and residents at long-term care facilities. Of those 2.7 million doses, 2,254,982 vaccines had been administered in Illinois as of midnight, including 291,269 for long-term care facilities.

Chicago Travel Order Updated: 31 States Now on List Requiring Quarantine or Negative Test

Chicago updated its emergency travel order on Tuesday, now including 31 U.S. states in the orange tier that requires either a 10-day quarantine or negative COVID-19 test before arrival in the city, and updated its guidance to exempt those who are fully vaccinated from the quarantine or test requirement.

Washington D.C., Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Texas, Idaho, Louisiana, Nebraska, Maryland, Wisconsin, Nevada, Arkansas, Washington, Michigan, Maine, Missouri and Oregon were moved Tuesday to the yellow tier, which does not require quarantine or a pre-arrival coronavirus test but remains under an advisory to avoid non-essential travel, the Chicago Department of Public Health said.

Alaska was moved back to the orange tier after being moved to the yellow tier two weeks ago, when 46 states and one territory were in the orange tier.

The latest update leaves a total of 31 states in the orange tier as of Tuesday. Updates to the order are issued every other Tuesday and take effect the following Friday.

City health officials on Tuesday also updated guidance to exempt anyone fully vaccinated and without COVID-19 symptoms from the quarantine or pre-arrival negative test requirement to bring the policy in alignment with new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Fully vaccinated is defined as being at least two weeks after receipt of the second dose in a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series or at least two weeks after receipt of one dose of a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine," CDPH said in a statement.

"Fully vaccinated travelers must monitor their health for 14 days after travel and if they experience symptoms potentially consistent with COVID-19, they must self-isolate until clinical evaluation and COVID testing," CDPH continued. "They also must continue to adhere to all recommended protective measures including wearing a mask (and using job-specific personal protective equipment), maintaining physical distance, practicing hand hygiene, and avoiding crowds."

Eligibility for Phase 1B in Illinois Still Scheduled to Expand Thursday

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the state is still expected to expand the list of people eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations in Phase 1B of its rollout starting Thursday, despite shipping delays that led to a shortage of doses for some cities last week.

The state had announced plans to increase eligibility beginning Feb. 25, allowing for people with "a high-risk medical condition" or comorbidity to be vaccinated. The list includes those with cancer, diabetes, obesity, women who are pregnant, and those with several other conditions.

Here's a list of what qualifies as a high-risk medical condition.

Chicago and Cook County do not expect to join the state in expanding eligibility.

For a complete look at where and how you can make an appointment in Illinois or where you can receive vaccine information for your area, click here.

Last week, officials were reporting shipping delays across the state and country as extreme winter weather impacted the number of doses being sent, causing shortages in some Chicago suburbs, but Pritzker confirmed the eligibility expansion remains on schedule.

"It set everybody nationally back. Now, as you saw from the doses that were delivered, because we put those numbers out every day, we had one day that was significantly lower, and that was on Saturday," Pritzker said. "And then Sunday, we had a much bigger Sunday than we've ever had before and I actually think that had to do with reporting more than anything else. But we delivered a lot of vaccine into people's arms last week, we're expecting to have 500,000 doses here in the state this week for administration into people's arms. So I feel like, you know, as you've seen, we've gotten to 60, 70, 80,000 per day. And our expectation is that we'll maintain and even grow that number in this coming the week that we're in now, in the coming week after that, especially as we've opened up to one B plus."

The expansion applies to those 16 and older who weren't otherwise covered in previous eligibility categories, the state said, adding that it plans to work with local health departments and other providers as eligibility increases.

Pritzker noted that people eligible in the expanded phase will not need to prove they have a high-risk medical condition, though many will likely receive the vaccine from their primary care doctors.

Read more here.

Chicago to Reopen Lakefront and Playgrounds in Easing of COVID-19 Restrictions

The Chicago Park District is reopening the lakefront and hundreds of playgrounds as well as indoor aquatics programming in the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Crews will begin opening public access points to parkland east of Lake Shore Drive and restrictions on lakefront parking will also be lifted, per the mayor's office.

In the coming weeks, the park district will also unlock gates and prepare more than 500 outdoor playgrounds and nature play spaces to reopen, officials said.

The Chicago Park District will also reopen indoor swimming pools to offer limited aquatics programming during the spring session, according to the mayor's office, with registration beginning March 8.

The Lakefront Trail and 606 Trail were both closed on March 26 but reopened in June with new guidelines designed to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus as the city moved into Phase 4 of its reopening plan.

While the Lakefront Trail reopened, all playgrounds, pools, and beaches east of Lake Shore Drive remained closed, though lakefront restaurants were allowed to reopen in early August.

State to Open New COVID Vaccination Sites in Rockford, Collinsville

The state of Illinois is set to add two additional mass-vaccination sites as officials look to step up efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus.

According to a press release, new sites will launch on Tuesday in Rockford and in Collinsville, with a maximum of 2,700 doses per day to be administered at the two sites.

Both sites will be aided by members of the Illinois National Guard, which will be mobilized by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to help stand the new sites up.

Each of the two new sites will aim to vaccinate 1,350 individuals per day once they are operating at full capacity, making them two of the highest-capacity sites in the state. Similar mass-vaccination sites are currently in operation in Arlington Heights, Belleville, Carbondale and Springfield, among others.

In all, 14 mass-vaccination sites are now state supported, with additional mobile vaccination teams deploying to rural areas of the state in an effort to step up administration of the treatments.

Read more here.

Coronavirus in Illinois: 1,246 New Cases, 34 Additional Deaths, Nearly 60K Vaccinations

Health officials in Illinois are reporting 1,246 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, along with 34 additional deaths attributed to the virus.

According to the latest data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, Monday's new cases bring the state to 1,175,655 cases of the virus since the pandemic began last year. A total of 20,303 deaths have been reported as a result of the virus.

The seven-day positivity rate rose slightly Monday, with 2.8% of all tests coming back with positive results, according to IDPH. That's up from 2.7% the day before. The positivity rate on individuals tested held steady at 3.1%.

In terms of vaccinations, numbers have continued to be impacted by the bad weather that limited deliveries of new doses in recent days. A total of 59,748 doses of the vaccine were administered in Illinois Sunday, with the seven-day rolling average now standing at 55,499 doses per day.

A total of 2,256,975 vaccine doses have been delivered to providers in Illinois, along with 445,200 doses delivered to pharmacies as part of a federal program to inoculate staff and residents at long-term care facilities. Of those 2.7 million doses, 2,211,700 vaccines had been administered in Illinois as of midnight, including 282,820 for long-term care facilities.

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