Katsaros Pharmacy, 1521 E. 53rd St.

Three things are true about Marilyn Cavicchia: she has been a loyal customer of Katsaros Pharmacy for decades, she was always going to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and she has a severe phobia of needles.

This spring of vaccine gamesmanship, of stalking various websites in search of elusive vaccine appointments, has been "terrifying," she said. "But when I checked Katsaros' website and saw they were accepting appointments, I did the online screener thing, and they said they would call to schedule, and I thought they would schedule a couple weeks out, and I would have time to gear myself up for it."

Lo and behold, owner-pharmacist Joe Gammariello called back immediately and suggested Monday, April 26, the first day he was cleared to give out the shots.

Gammariello, who bought the pharmacy from the pharmacy from the titular Mr. Katsaros 21 years ago, had applied to administer vaccines months ago out of a sense of civic duty.

"I signed up just because I wanted to help out the neighborhood," he said. "It's not about making money. I'm here to help out. The process was long to sign up, but I'm glad it's done. I'm all ready to go, and we're here to help."

During that months-long wait, he had a website set up through which patients could book appointments before he got clearance a few weeks ago to give out the Johnson & Johnson shot, but then came the nationwide pause. That ended, and he began administering the one-and-done vaccine last Monday.

"Joe kind of called my bluff by returning my call immediately, and what he offered was Monday at noon," Cavicchia said. Still, she stalled for time; she took an appointment for the next day: "At that point, I kind of felt like, 'The stars are aligning here, I should just go ahead and do this.' What I've heard is if you get an appointment, take the appointment."

There was some serendipity. She liked the prospect of one shot instead of two. She liked that Gammariello would give her the shot as opposed to "a random person at Walgreens, who I'm sure are very nice and everything." Cavicchia also does not have a car and could easily access Katsaros, 1521 E. 53rd St., on foot.

If she would have gone to the mass vaccination sites at Chicago State University or United Center, she would have had to spend time to plan transit and then spend time in transit thinking about the needle, "this thing that I don't even want to do."

Demand for vaccines at Katsaros has not been particularly high. Gammariello said on April 28 that he had given out 10 shots in total. He said some people are hesitant about the J&J vaccine — of which the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) resumed distribution on April 23 following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration — but others are requesting the one-shot regimen because of its convenience.

"I was hoping it'd be more," he said. Some patients had their Katsaros appointments cancelled during the J&J pause, but when Gammariello called them back afterwards to offer them shots, they told him they had gotten vaccinated elsewhere.

But Gammariello said the most important thing is his patients.

"Even during the pause, I was telling them, 'If you're able to get it someplace else, go ahead and do it. Don't wait for me.' And I had loyal patients here," he said. "But now that it's readily available, people are able to get the vaccine whenever they want to. Obviously because I'm in the neighborhood and people live in the area, it's more convenient for them. There's several factors."

"It's all about choices," he said. "I try to make (patients) feel comfortable, because they know me, because I take my time. I try to make them feel as comfortable as they can, explaining to them what it's all about.

"A lot of people like that. A lot of people don't like the crowds at the Walgreens or the CVS. When you're in a crowd, even though they might have a private room, you're still dealing with crowds. Plus people are going to tend to know the pharmacist or somebody. People feel comfortable with me, and I certainly appreciate that. But I also in turn want to make them feel comfortable and safe, too."

Because of her phobia, Cavicchia does not have a primary care physician. "If you go to a doctor, there's going to be a needle," she explained. Her husband got his vaccine, through the University of Chicago Medical Center's patient lottery, months ago. The constant flood of jubilant post-vaccine selfies on social media have been a living hell, though she described it as free exposure therapy.

"Those of us who are waiting, don't assume that we're all anti-vaxxers or against this vaccine in particular. I always intended to get it," Cavicchia said. The pandemic has hit home: her theater group, the Hyde Park Community Players, lost a member to COVID-19. A friend's father died.

"There's no way I would go without getting this vaccine, because obviously I don't want to die from this, but I obviously don't want to kill anyone else. It was always a responsibility I took very seriously, but then when it actually became available, it was like, 'Oh, now I have to do it.' And doing the thing is always a little different from the intention."

Cavicchia is aware that there will probably be coronavirus vaccine boosters in the future. Now that she got one shot, she is thinking about getting flu shots.

"If I can do this, why can't I do the other things I should be doing?" she said. "I'm almost 50, and I'm well-aware as you get older there's a certain amount of lifestyle care that you need. There's only so long I can kick this down the road."

Cavicchia did not take a vaccine selfie, but her vaccine card is on her mantle, and she put a picture frame that says she has been vaccinated on her Facebook profile picture.

City loosens capacity limits

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced on April 29 that Chicago, in light of continuing reductions and stabilizations in case positivity and other metrics, will further loosen restrictions.

  • Restaurants and bars: indoor capacity can increase to the lesser of 50% or 100 people.
  • Spectator events, theater, places of worship, performing arts, meetings, conferences and conventions: large indoor venues can now operate at 25% capacity.
  • Festivals and general admission outdoor spectator events can operate at 15 people per 1,000 square feet
  • Farmers markets can operate at 25% capacity or 15 people per 1,000 square feet

Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady of the CDPH said the metric declines and stabilizations are happening because people are getting vaccinated. The number of people per day is more than 500 — the city would like it to be fewer than 200 — but she said a continuing decline with stable metrics, the city will further loosen restrictions in two weeks.

"Our ability to continue to move ahead is most-dependent on people getting vaccinated," she said. "We're all excited to get back to the Chicago we know and love. The quickest, easiest way to get there is to talk to everybody you know and say, 'Have you gotten that vaccine yet? And if not, let me help you.'"

Local COVID-19 information

As of April 29, the city's seven-day average positivity rate is 4.7%, below the 5% target positivity. As of April 18-24, COVID-19 positivities have dropped below 5% in all four mid-South Side lakefront ZIP codes.

  • In 60653, covering North Kenwood and Bronzeville, there were 51 confirmed cases of COVID-19, compared to 58 the week before, and no deaths, down from one the week before. There was a 4.8% positivity rate out of 1,072 tests performed, down from 5.5% the week before. The number of tests performed rose 1%. Out of the entire population, 34.3% has received a first dose of vaccine, and 22.9% is fully vaccinated.
  • In 60615, covering northern Hyde Park, southern Kenwood and northern Washington Park, there were 52 confirmed cases, down from 74 the week before, and no deaths, the same as the week before. There was a 2.3% positivity rate out of 2,236 tests, down from 3.2% the week before. The number of tests performed dropped 3%. Out of the entire population, 47.5% have received a first dose of vaccine, and 33% are fully vaccinated.
  • In 60637, covering southern Hyde Park, southern Washington Park and Woodlawn, there were 75 confirmed cases, down from 101 the week before, and no deaths, the same as the week before. There was a 1.8% positivity rate out of 4,166 tests, down from 2.2% the week before. The number of tests performed dropped 9%. Out of the entire population, 32.5% have received a first dose of vaccine, and 21% are fully vaccinated.
  • In 60649, South Shore, there were 81 confirmed cases, down from 101 the week before, and one death, up from none the week before. There was a 4.2% positivity rate out of 1,941 tests, down from 6.2% the week before. The number of tests performed rose 20%. Out of the entire population, 28% have received a first dose of vaccine, and 19.3% are fully vaccinated.

The city’s figures are accurate as of April 29, recorded at chi.gov/coviddash, and change as additional past data comes in.

From April 16-23, the University of Chicago conducted 4,636 tests, of which three students and one faculty or staffer tested positive. Since Sept. 18, the university has reported 1,098 total cases to the CDPH.

On April 23, the university reported that adherence to the UChicago Health Pact has dramatically decreased the number of new COVID-19 cases, with just 12 reported the previous week among students, and that COVID-19 restrictions in place for undergraduates were lifted early for undergraduates, on April 20.

The city's website for free COVID-19 testing is chicagocovidtesting.com; more information is available at chi.gov/covidtesting.

The city's website for vaccine information is chicago.gov/covidvax. The city's online platform for vaccine scheduling is zocdoc.com/vaccine. Seniors can also register over the phone at 312-746-4835.

Patient registration for the COVID-19 vaccine at the University of Chicago Medical Center is not available at this time; vaccines are being offered to eligible patients through a lottery, with patients being notified when it is their turn to schedule an appointment.

Howard Brown Health is offering the COVID-19 vaccine to essential frontline workers and those aged 65 and older, with sign-up at 872-269-3600. Katsaros Pharmacy is offering appointments online at katsarospharmacy.com.

The Cook County government is offering sign-up for vaccines at vaccine.cookcountyil.gov.

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