coronavirus illinois

‘I'm Super Excited:' Essential Workers React to Expanded Vaccine Eligibility in Chicago

Thousands of Chicagoans now qualify to get vaccinated under the state's Phase 1C

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On Monday, Illinois and the city of Chicago entered the next phase of the vaccination rollout, with residents 16 and older with underlying health conditions and more essential workers now eligible for the vaccine.

"I’m super excited. I just want to start living my life again a little bit more freely," said Elizabeth Slagel, a stylist at Salon 833 in West Town. "It would have been nice to get the vaccine a lot sooner. It’s actually pretty upsetting because we touch people all day."

Slagel and others who work in personal care services are now eligible. They're anxiously scooping up appointments as they're available, a task that's proven difficult.

"It was really confusing," said salon social media manager, Baylee Cox. She was able to secure an appointment for later this week after waiting in an online queue for nearly two hours.

"I feel extremely fortunate," she said. "We’ve been with people for about nine months now. It’s been a little nerve wrecking."

Food service employees, hotel workers, clergy members, and those in retail also qualify.

"Even just hearing about it, I feel my shoppers are going to be more comfortable coming in," said Sandy O'Kane.

O'Kane owns Winnie Cooper Boutique in Roscoe Village. Sales are down 38% from a year ago. The holiday boost helped to keep the shop afloat. She and her staff all plan to get vaccinated. They think of the shot as an extra layer of protection.

"I think that comfort level will hopefully get more people on the street and in the store," said O'Kane.

At Hotel Lincoln, nearly 80% of the staff was laid off or furloughed at the height of the pandemic.

"We were down 95% for most of last year. We just saw our first couple sell out weekends the last two weekends, [so that's] super promising," said Dan White, the hotel's general manager.

"Being face to face with so many travelers from different parts of the country makes a lot of people nervous. We’re super excited. I think we’re back to 50% staffing levels, which is exciting, and seeing the vaccine being rolled out has helped our business tremendously," he said.

Jordan Dominguez is the chef at Sushi Suite 202 inside the hotel. He and his staff are already trying to book appointments to get their vaccines. They're cautiously optimistic for the future of the intimate in-suite omakase speakeasy.

"We just hope everybody can play in the realms of the rules safely and not get anyone else sick," said Chef Dominguez.

"I'm a little worried what extra precautions will be taken once everyone is fully vaccinated," he said.

He hopes to see people respect the rules by still wearing masks and social distancing. He says expanding vaccine eligibility is a "beacon of light" they're hoping gets even brighter.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is also urging caution as cases increase once again in the city. Young adults ages 18-39 are driving the latest surge.

"Today, we're over 400 average new cases a day. And our percent positivity, which was the lowest it had ever been in the pandemic, in the twos, is now back to 4% positivity," said Mayor Lightfoot.

Lightfoot says although more Chicaogans are now eligible, demand will still outweigh supply and is calling for everyone to be patient.

"You we will get your turn. We are determined to make sure we get every single eligible person in city of Chicago vaccinated, but it will take time," said Lightfoot.

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