Mindful of numbers, governor sees potential for easing some restrictions
State lowers age requirement for next phase of vaccine to 65 or older
By GRACE BARBIC
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Statewide Tier 3 COVID-19 mitigations could be lifted within 10 days.
Starting Jan.15, exactly one incubation period from New Year’s Day, any region that has met requirements for a reduction of mitigations will be able to move out of the Tier 3 mitigation plan, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday.
“I’m cautiously optimistic as there are some early signs indicating that some regions have made real progress and won’t reverse that progress this week or next,” Pritzker said.
The entire state has been under Tier 3 restrictions since Nov. 20 in an effort to combat a potential holiday surge in cases. Under these increased restrictions businesses are required to follow 25 percent capacity limits and close bars and restaurants to indoor service – a mitigation that will still be in place even when a region moves back to Tier 2.
Pritzker said that despite not seeing a post-Thanksgiving surge, he is still advising Tier 3 restrictions be upheld for one incubation period, or 14 days, to ensure infection rates remain as low as possible.
After Jan.15, regions will be able proceed past Tier 2, which would allow restaurants and bars to reopen for indoor service, depending on their future infection and hospitalization rates.
Because of high demand for the COVID-19 vaccine, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended two initial priority groups receive the first rounds of vaccination.
Those in Phase 1A, who are currently receiving vaccines, include health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
Phase 1B will include Illinois residents age 65 years or older and non-healthcare frontline essential workers. ACIP recommended residents 75 years or older be prioritized, but Illinois reduced the age by 10 years. Pritzker noted the average age of COVID-19 deaths is 81 for white residents, 72 for Black residents and 68 for Latino residents.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike supported lowering the vaccine eligibility age, noting that Latino and Black residents have statistically been dying from COVID-19 at three times the rate of white residents.
“Generally, Latinx and Black populations have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 with data showing related deaths at younger ages,” Ezike said. “We are hopeful that by lowering the eligibility age to 65 years we can help reduce this disparity.”
About 3.2 million people throughout the state would be eligible for vaccination in Phase 1B. These essential workers include first responders, education workers, manufacturing, distribution and agriculture workers, grocery store workers, U.S. Postal service workers, public transit employees, corrections workers and incarcerated people, among others.
The Illinois National Guard will be assisting in the development of mass vaccination sites. The state will also be increasing the number of providers to support widespread testing when the time comes.
Phase 1B will begin once Phase 1A is substantially complete, but a specific time period is not yet clear. Although about one-third of the healthcare workforce has already been vaccinated, Pritzker said that many healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents are still in the process of receiving the vaccine. Ongoing vaccine administration and a decrease in federal vaccine distribution could delay the move to the next phase.
The increase in federal vaccine distribution relies heavily on whether the Biden administration will implement the Defense Production Act. President Donald Trump invoked this Cold War-era law in response to the pandemic, giving him emergency authority to control domestic industries.
The Defense Production Act was most recently used to prevent the hoarding of supplies, limit the export of medical goods like personal protective equipment and increase the production of critical supplies. Pritzker anticipates that there will be a significant increase in vaccine distribution once the DPA is invoked under Biden.
He also noted that Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca, along with a few other companies, are in the process of applying for Emergency Use Authorization for their own coronavirus vaccines through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“Whenever that is granted, that will give us other manufacturing facilities to rely upon,” Pritzker said. “So I’m hopeful that all of those things will allow vaccine production to increase significantly.”
The state reported another 139 COVID-19-related deaths Wednesday as the confirmed death count in Illinois from the virus rose to 17,096.
Hospitalizations and positivity rates for COVID remained roughly level from the previous day, with the seven-day rolling average case positivity rate falling to 8.4 percent, decreasing for the second straight day.
As of Tuesday night, 3,928 individuals were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois, an increase of 23 from the day prior. There were 812 individuals in intensive care unit beds, an increase of 12 from the day before, and 451 individuals on ventilators, a decrease of six from Monday night.
The hospitalization numbers appeared to be leveling, with 27 percent of beds available statewide, 22 percent of ICU beds available and 73 percent of ventilators.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
File photo: Gov. J.B. Pritzker