All suburban Cook County residents ages 16 and older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine beginning Monday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday.
The move meets a goal Pritzker announced last month as part of his reopening plan for the state.
“It is important we begin to address the whole population because the danger of the new variants spreading means that we want every dose to get into arms as soon as humanly possible,” Pritzker said at a news conference Thursday. “The vaccine is the best weapon against the variants and the fastest ticket back to normal life.”
Next week, more than 150,000 first-dose appointments will open at 11 state-supported mass vaccination operations in Cook and the collar counties and area pharmacies, officials said.
But Pritzker is urging patience.
“Even with all of these new appointments, there will not be enough vaccine in week one to get everyone that wants to be vaccinated a dose,” he said. “Our fight to stay safe and protect ourselves isn’t over. But with each day and each dose, we move closer and closer to putting this pandemic to an end.”
Chicago will expand vaccine eligibility on April 19 – the target date announced by President Joe Biden for all adults to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
However, Chicagoans ages 16 and up can sign up for a shot at any state-run mass vaccination site starting April 12, according to Pritzker.
“I want to make sure people in Chicago know they are welcome to sign up for our mass vaccination sites. … If people choose to come to our mass vaccination sites, they’re absolutely welcome,” the governor said.
Illinois has so far administered over 6.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, with 25% of the adult population fully vaccinated, according to the governor. At least 73% of seniors and 42% of people ages 16 and older have had at least one dose of vaccine.
The expansion in vaccine access comes as suburban Cook County sees a rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations that has officials extremely worried but unwilling to reimpose restrictions, at least for now.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle reiterated that stance Thursday.
“If we have trends in the wrong direction, we’ll not hesitate to tighten restrictions on gathering, indoors or outdoors,” she said. “Our future rests upon decisions made in this critical moment.”
Suburban Cook County’s seven-day rolling average test positivity rate hit 5.2% on Wednesday, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data. The region has also seen the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations increase for 10 consecutive days, according to the data.
A test positivity of 5% or greater means COVID-19 is spreading unchecked, according to officials.
County officials followed Chicago leaders in allowing businesses to serve more customers outdoors starting March 26, citing data that shows the virus is less likely to spread outdoors.
County rules now limit most businesses to serving no more than 50 people indoors, or no more than 50% of their normal capacity. Rather than immediately revert to tier 1 mitigations, which limit bars and restaurants to 25% capacity, officials could reduce capacity to 40% to stop the surge in cases, according to Dr. Rachel Rubin, co-lead of the Cook County Department of Public Health.
On Wednesday, state officials announced 3,790 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 – the largest single-day increase since late January, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data. Officials also announced 28 virus-related deaths, including seven Cook County residents.
Hospitalizations are also rising across the state. On March 12, less than 1,100 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, according to IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. As of Wednesday, nearly 1,800 people were hospitalized.
“This goes hand-in-hand with the number of rising cases,” Ezike said.
The existence of vaccines “doesn’t mean the pandemic is completely over,” she said. “This resurgence is here and until we have better herd immunity we will continue with this layered public health measured response (that) involves wearing masks, washing your hands, (being) careful with crowds, keeping 6 feet of distance, getting tested, answering the call when contact tracers call. All of that is important, and, of course, get vaccinated as soon as you can.”
To make a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, call the state hotline 833-621-1284, which operates 6 a.m.-midnight.
For information about suburban Cook County COVID-19 vaccinations, including how to register for an appointment, visit vaccine.cookcountyil.gov or call 833-308-1988, which operates 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday.