Chicago's United Center will be turned into a mass COVID-19 vaccination site opening next month, a coalition of city, state and federal officials announced Friday.
The United Center site will open on March 10 through a partnership of Chicago and Illinois authorities with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Crews were setting up in the parking lot of the arena on Friday morning.
The United Center site will be able to administer 6,000 shots per day at full capacity, officials said, but noting that demand was "anticipated to be high." Those doses will be provided directly from the federal government and not diverted from the supply sent to Chicago or Illinois.
Officials said the United Center vaccination site will operate seven days a week for eight weeks by appointment only, and that information about where and how to make appointments would be made available in coming days.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker's office said Friday that seniors will have first access to appointments before the site opens in an exclusive registration period. If any appointments are still available afterwards, the remaining slots will be open to all Illinoisans eligible under the state's current Phase 1B Plus guidelines.
Once the site opens on March 10, registration will remain open for all Illinois residents eligible in Phase 1B Plus, which includes seniors, essential workers and residents with certain high-risk health conditions.
For a look at who is eligible to be vaccinated at the United Center under Phase 1B Plus, click here.
The United Center is one of 18 "federally-established community vaccination centers" across the country that President Joe Biden's administration highlighted Friday as either recently opened or opening in the coming weeks, that will able to administer a combined total of 61,000 shots per day at full capacity.
Those sites, including the United Center, were selected based on a range of criteria including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's "Social Vulnerability Index."
That index helps officials "identify and map communities that will most likely need support before, during, and after a hazardous event" taking into consideration "critical data points, including socioeconomic status, household composition, minority status, languages, housing type and transportation," the White House said.
Chicago and Cook County were identified as having a "significantly medically underserved and marginalized population," the White House said, adding that the United Center is located in a "central and accessible" area with nearby public transit and high walkability.
"The site will serve up to 2.9 million people who live within a 30-minute drive time," the White House said, noting that 22,000 people live within a one-mile walking distance of the arena.
"The United Center is one of the best locations for vaccinating large numbers of people in America: it’s easy to get to, is in the midst of a medically underserved community, can handle large crowds and is well known to everyone in Illinois,” Pritzker said in a statement.
“I am deeply grateful to the Biden-Harris administration for working closely with us to bring on this high-capacity site, and I’m particularly proud that we’ve worked together to prioritize seniors in this process, moving us that much closer to putting this pandemic to an end," he continued.
Chicago health officials had previously said they were looking into creating mass vaccination sites at several sports stadiums, but those venues wouldn't be used until the city gets more doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said earlier this month that the department looked into hosting mass-vaccination sites at the United Center, as well as at Wrigley Field and Soldier Field, but planned to wait until the city’s allotment of vaccines increases.
“We are completely ready to stand up mass vaccination sites, but it’s about vaccine,” she said during a Facebook Live. Pritzker noted Friday that the city and state would continue to explore the possibility of opening up more mass vaccination sites at sports venues outside of the federal partnership.
The announcement about the United Center's vaccination site came one day after Illinois expanded Phase 1B of its vaccination rollout plan, opening up eligibility to include people with certain high-risk medical conditions and comorbidities.
While the state expanded its Phase 1B, many counties, health departments and hospital systems - including Chicago and Cook County - said they would not join the rest of Illinois in increasing eligibility, citing low vaccine supply for those who already qualify.
Previously under the earlier iteration Phase 1B, only essential workers and residents age 65 and over were eligible to receive the vaccine.
While frustration has been evident - both among residents seeking their shots as well as many government and health officials - over low vaccine supply, vaccinations have increased across Illinois in recent days after being stymied by severe winter weather last week.
On Thursday, Illinois reported a single-day high of vaccinations across the state, with more than 130,000 doses administered in the previous 24 hours.
Nearly 2.7 million doses of the two available vaccines have been delivered to providers in Illinois, with another 445,200 doses allocated to the federal government's program for long-term care facilities. Of those, more than 2.4 million doses have been administered statewide.