CHICAGO — Illinois on Wednesday recorded its highest daily coronavirus-related death toll since June as state officials released an early version of its plan for how a vaccine will be distributed once one is approved and available.
The plan “is designed to provide an equitable distribution across the state with priority access going to our most vulnerable populations, front-line health care workers and first responders who directly interact with and treat COVID patients, as well as staff and residents in long-term care facilities,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said during his daily coronavirus news briefing.
The plan will “evolve as vaccine trials come to a conclusion and the FDA decides which to approve,” Pritzker said, noting that there are a range of unknowns around whether vaccinations will require multiple doses and if they will need cold or room temperature storage.
While President Donald Trump has vowed that a vaccination could be available soon, most experts think that won’t happen until next year, a point backed up on Wednesday by Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.
“Vaccinations, once they arrive, will take many, many months, at the minimum, to actually get into the arms of the people of Illinois,” Ezike said. “So this will unfold in phases, with initially only a small amount of vaccine available, and as production ramps up, more individuals will be able to avail themselves of this countermeasure.”
Once a vaccine is available, the state will build off its existing vaccine registry system that tracks immunizations for children, to track the geographic distribution of vaccines. “And that can help us further direct the traffic of future vaccine to come, if we see that a region that has been hardest hit by the virus and they have a lower percentage of people who have gotten immunized,” Ezike said.
Chicago would get its own distribution of the vaccine directly from the CDC under the plan.
COVID-19 vaccinations will not be mandated, though officials will also work to address “vaccine hesitancy,” Ezike said, noting “people who may need it most might have the reason to be most hesitant, and so we’re going to have to work with communities to address issues, to notify, to educate, to have their questions answered.”
“Illinois will not distribute a vaccine until we have one that is proven safe and effective,” Pritzker said.
The state on Wednesday reported 69 deaths of people with COVID-19 over a 24-hour period on Wednesday, bringing the state-reported death toll to 9,345 people in Illinois since the pandemic began. The last time the statewide death toll for a single day surpassed 60 was June 24, when the number of deaths reported was 64.
The regional trends across the state “are still moving in the wrong direction,” Pritzker said Wednesday.
The seven-day average for deaths climbed to 39 as of Wednesday, still far short of the average daily number of deaths being reported for part of the spring, when the state was in the grip of the first surge of the coronavirus pandemic and reported a seven-day average for COVD-19 deaths as high as 118.
“That’s always the pattern,” Ezike said. “A certain number of cases will go on to be hospitalizations, a certain number of hospitalizations will go on to be deaths and so the more cases, eventually you will get to more deaths. So the spike in cases that we’ve been seeing over the last six weeks, yes, unfortunately it is turning into additional mortality.”
As of Tuesday night, 2,338 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, the highest number of hospitalizations since June 10, when 2,367 people in the state were hospitalized with the illness. Of those patients, 502 were in intensive care units and 194 were on ventilators.
The region that includes Will and Kankakee counties has a roughly 25% intensive care unit bed availability, according to state Department of Public Health data.
Officials reported 4,342 newly diagnosed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, resulting from a batch of 66,791 tests conducted during a 24-hour period. The state is reporting a 5.7% test positivity rate for the seven-day period that ended Tuesday.
The statewide seven-day positivity rate has grown by more than a full percentage point in the past week. The rate was 4.6% as of Oct. 14, up from 3.5% on Oct. 1.
Pritzker on Wednesday also said the state has begun sending shipments of Abbott rapid antigen tests to local health departments around the state. The tests were distributed to states by the federal government, and the federal government and Abbott have indicated that these shipments will continue on a weekly basis through at least the end of 2020, and will total more than 3 million for the state of Illinois, Pritzker said.
Pritzker on Wednesday signed a pair of executive orders to scale back reopening in the 20-county southern Illinois region, as defined by his reopening plan, starting Thursday, and in Kane, DuPage, Will and Kankakee counties starting Friday.
Indoor bar service and dining will be ordered shuttered in those affected regions, and gathering limits will be lowered to 25 people or 25% of room capacity, whichever is less. The crackdown comes after the regions surpassed a state-set threshold of a COVID-19 test positivity rate of 8% or higher for three consecutive days.
The northwest region that includes Rockford and Galena has been living under those firmer rules since earlier this month, and has seen its test positivity rate continue to rise. As of Saturday, the positivity rate for that region had climbed to 11.8%, the state reported Wednesday.
The state also reported that the other seven regions of the state as defined by Pritzker’s reopening plan that aren’t under or coming under the COVID-related crackdown this week, including Chicago, suburban Cook County and Lake and McHenry counties, all now have reached or surpassed test positivity rates of 7%.
The governor’s decision to roll back portions of the reopening across the suburbs continues to face pushback from Republican lawmakers, several of whom are engaged in tough reelection battles.
State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi of Elmhurst said during an unrelated news conference Wednesday that the governor’s office has not been fully transparent with the data behind its decisions.
“Once again, he’s taking unilateral action without consulting the legislators who are in that district or even getting the legislature on board with his many plans at all,” Mazzochi said.
In a statement following Tuesday’s announcement, Republican Rep. Mark Batinick of Plainfield also called for Pritzker to better inform the legislature and involve lawmakers in decision-making.
“Going forward, we need to base decisions on a full set of facts, and not just a few data points,” Batinick said. “We need a full understanding of exactly where these outbreaks are occurring.”
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