Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady announced that Chicago will move into vaccination Phase 1C as scheduled on March 29, with “most” of the city eligible for their shots in the next two calendar months, including all essential workers and those with a number of health conditions.
While “frontline” essential workers like teachers and grocery store workers have been eligible for the vaccine since Jan 25, all essential workers — those who work in restaurants, hotels, retail, salons, houses of worship, construction, warehouse, delivery and other fields — will become eligible alongside those with underlying health conditions.
All the underlying conditions listed under the Illinois Department of Public Health's "Phase 1B+" eligibility guidelines (except for smoking) — obesity, diabetes, pulmonary diseases, heart conditions, chronic kidney disease, cancer, solid organ transplant, sickle cell disease, pregnancy and physical, developmental, visual, hearing and mental disabilities — are included under the city's guidelines as well as HIV/AIDS, liver diseases, schizophrenia and other conditions.
In recent weeks, residents in a number of hard-hit ZIP codes, including South Shore’s, have been given access to vaccination appointments.
At a March 17 press conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said equity will remain the goal of the city's distribution strategy — she noted that more than half of vaccines are now going to Black and Latino Chicagoans — and said that her administration is working with the federal government to get more vaccine doses and to open more mass vaccination sites.
Lightfoot stressed the need for seniors to get their shots if they have not already done so. She noted that they and everyone else who is already eligible for them will still remain so after Phase 1C begins on March 29. But demand will fall short on that date, but supply is expected to grow in the months ahead.
"We want to make sure that we manage folks' expectations: it will take some time because of the limited supply that we are still getting," she said. "But hope is on the way. We are expecting to receive more vaccine in this new phase and that all of those who are newly eligible under 1C will be able to get and make a vaccine appointment in either April or May."
Nearly a quarter of adult Chicagoans have gotten a shot; nearly half of Chicago seniors have. Arwady said the priority before moving into Phase 1C is to get the other half of seniors vaccinated, as competition for appointments will greatly increase after March 29.
Eventually, Arwady predicted procuring a COVID-19 vaccine will be like getting a flu vaccine. She is taking President Joe Biden's promise to make all adults eligible for the vaccine by May 1 "as a sign that the federal government is confident that vaccine supply will ramp up even" faster over the spring.
The city set Phase 2, when all Chicagoans aged 16 and older will be eligible for the vaccine to begin on May 31 in December, which Arwady called a best estimate at the time. She said she would be "thrilled" to meet Biden's accelerated timeline.
"I anticipate that we would be able to do that, but I want to make sure that we see the vaccine supply," she said, adding that a few more vaccines may be cleared for use before then. She encouraged people to keep checking for appointments, again, as supply will ramp up in the months ahead. She reminded people that demand outstripped supply at the beginning of phases 1A and 1B before catching up.
“I'm confident, based on everything I'm hearing from the federal government, that the same thing will happen," she said.
Citywide coronavirus infection rates have fallen in the last three months, which Arwady ascribed to getting vaccines to the settings that have most driven the COVID-19 outbreak. She added that Chicago has "essentially erased" the racial and ethnic inequities in case rates and deaths inherent in the pandemic since its beginning.
"Getting vaccine first to the highest-risk settings has the biggest impact in driving down case rates, it helps provide every one of us from the emergence of variants, and it moves us closer to reopening and getting back to normal," she said.
Three out of Chicago's four reopening metrics — test positivity rate, emergency department visits and intensive care unit (ICU) capacity — are currently in the lower risk range, above the range for controlled transmission, though diagnosed cases are holding stagnant since last month in the moderate risk range.
Meanwhile, a third wave of coronavirus infections has begun in Europe. A new variant is spreading in New York. Rates and hospitalizations are trending in the wrong direction in Michigan, for which officials are blaming more contagious variants.
Arwady said the city's epidemiologists are constantly examining data to spot problems as they appear. Very good news continues to roll in on severe outcomes, from hospitalizations to ICU visits, but cases, at 293 as of March 17, are still too high.
"I really need those to get under 200 cases per day," she said, the line between moderate and lower risk. "Seeing those numbers hopefully trend down is a big part of what we're watching for here. We're sitting at a 2.9% positivity today. Again, this is good, but we're not done."
She is concerned about Michigan, given its proximity to Chicago and its variant spread. "Things are broadly in control, but they've had real increases," she said. "This is where, in some ways, we are against time here. I feel really confident in the vaccine strategy that we have, because we've gotten vaccine into the places where the most COVID cases are being driven, which in turn are where we see variants emerge and spread."
In the meantime, as more vaccine arrives and goes into people's arms, people need to remember that the pandemic is not over.
"These masks, the social distancing," Arwady said, "they protect you from the variants. But you've got to keep doing them. We need people to hang in there while we continue to get a larger population vaccinated and keep monitoring variants, but I'm feeling OK about where we are right now."
Local COVID-19 figures
Five percent is the city's target positivity. A citywide positivity of less than 2% is one of the metrics — alongside fewer than 20 diagnosed COVID-19 cases in Chicago per day, fewer than 20 emergency room visits for COVID-like illnesses and fewer than 20 intensive care unit beds occupied by COVID-19 patients — that the city would need to reach with week-to-week stability to show controlled transmission of the coronavirus.
As of March 16, city's seven-day rolling average of daily cases was 292, indicating moderate risk (200-399 cases) according to the Chicago Department of Public Health and up 10% from the week before.
As of March 7-13, COVID-19 percent-positivities remain are 2% in all four mid-South Side lakefront ZIP codes.
- In 60653, covering North Kenwood and Bronzeville, there were 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19, compared to 20 the week before, and no deaths, the same as the week before. There was a 1.4% positivity rate out of 802 tests performed, down from 2.6% from the week before. The number of tests performed rose 3%.
- In 60615, covering northern Hyde Park, southern Kenwood and northern Washington Park, there were 17 confirmed cases, up from 12 the week before, and no deaths, the same as the week before. There was a 0.5% positivity rate out of 2,188 tests, up from 0.5% the week before. The number of tests performed dropped 4%.
- In 60637, covering southern Hyde Park, southern Washington Park and Woodlawn, there were 22 confirmed cases, down from 27 the week before, and one death, up from none the week before. There was a 0.5% positivity rate out of 4,038 tests, down from 0.6% the week before. The number of tests performed dropped 4%.
- In 60649, South Shore, there were 16 confirmed cases, the same as the week before, and one death, the same as the week before. There was a 1.4% positivity rate out of 1,154 tests, down from 1.7% the week before. The number of tests performed dropped 16%.
The city’s figures are accurate as of March 17, recorded at chi.gov/coviddash and change as additional past data comes in.
From March 6-12, the University of Chicago reported no positive cases out of 2,145 tests among students and faculty; the week before, the school identified one positive case. All test results are reported to the city.
Since Sept. 18, there have been 813 total coronavirus cases at the U. of C.
As of March 17, there are 17 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC). On March 4, there were 33. At the height of the first wave, in April, there were 140. At the height of the second wave, in November, there were 110.
The city's website for vaccine information is www.chicago.gov/covidvax. The city's online platform for vaccine scheduling is zocdoc.com/vaccine, where bookings for seniors to get vaccines at the United Center are available. Seniors can also register over the phone at 312-746-4835.
Patient registration for the COVID-19 vaccine at the UCMC 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.
The Cook County government is offering sign-up for vaccines at vaccine.cookcountyil.gov.