COVID-19 Hospitalizations Stall Illinois’ Reopening Plan

Illinois is on the edge of a bridge to fully reopening the economy.

Per guidelines issued by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration, the state can move to the next, intermediary phase of reopening — called the bridge phase — once 70% of residents ages 65 and over are vaccinated against COVID-19.

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Illinois is on the verge of meeting that goal: The Illinois Department of Public Health announced on Monday that 69% of seniors have now been vaccinated.

But rather than inching closer to the bridge, the state is instead stepping back due to an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“Because these (coronavirus) hospitalization metrics continue to trend upward, the state has not yet met the conditions to move to the Bridge Phase,” IDPH stated Monday in its daily update. “Health officials continue to urge all residents to mask up, socially distance and wash hands frequently to reduce transmission and bring the metrics back in line to transition to the Bridge Phase.”

READ: Chicago Launches Next Phase of COVID-19 Vaccine Effort

According to the latest IDPH figures, 1,352 people in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19 as of Sunday night; of those, 280 patients were in the intensive care unit and 128 patients with COVID-19 were on ventilators.

In comparison, IDPH a week ago reported that as of March 21, hospitals statewide reported treating 1,182 individuals; of those, 233 patients were in the ICU and 98 patients with COVID-19 were on ventilators.

At that time, the statewide seven-day positivity rate was is 2.9%; now it’s 3.8%.

In order to move from phase 4 to the bridge phase, IDPH’s metrics require that “new COVID-19 hospital admissions, total COVID-19 patients in the hospital, and death rates are not increasing significantly statewide over the most recent 28 days.”

On Feb. 28, the daily hospital admissions for coronavirus-like illness was 95; the latest information available from IDPH show that figure was 135 on March 26.

Moving to the next stage of reopening also requires that hospital ICU bed availability is higher than 20% — a metric that Illinois has hit all month. The average of staffed available ICU beds is currently 27%.

Pritzker did not say anything about the state’s reopening status during his public appearance Monday. The governor visited Lorenzo R. Smith School in Pembroke Township, his latest stop on a tour celebrating a package of racial equity laws advanced by Black lawmakers.

The bridge phase is not a full-scale reopening, but it eases capacity limits from 50% to 60% at restaurants, stores, amusement parks, gyms, theaters and offices.

In order to move to the Phase 5 of reopening, half of all Illinoisans age 16 and above must be vaccinated for COVID-19; the same thresholds regarding COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU availability will also apply.

Just-expanded eligibility rules could mean the percentage of vaccinated adults will soon increase. It’s been steadily rising, and the most recent IDPH data shows that more than 35% of those 16 and older have been inoculated.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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