The statewide mask mandate indoors is back, and educators and health care professionals will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced on Aug. 26 amid an ongoing surge in the pandemic that first arrived in Illinois in March 2020.
Masks are already mandated in Chicago, however. Chicago Public Schools has mandated vaccinations for its teachers, as has the University of Chicago for its staff and students.
Citywide cases of COVID-19 and subsequent hospitalizations have been trending down since the middle of August in Chicago, per data from the Department of Public Health.
A statement from the department relayed that less than 10% of intensive care unit beds in Chicago are occupied by COVID-19 patients (around 100 patients on Aug. 24), and around 85% of the city's ICU beds are in use. At the worst part of the pandemic's initial surge — still the worst in Chicago — there were 500 occupied ICU beds, and the department imparted then that the hospital could manage the surge.
The University of Chicago Medical Center did not provide exact current ICU figures, but 37 COVID-19 patients are being treated there. At the height of the first wave, in April 2020, there were 140.
Downstate, the story is different. Intensive care bed availability in southern Illinois is at 3%.
“That's because the regions with the lowest vaccination rates are the regions where there are fewer hospitals, and lower hospital capacity,” Pritzker said at a news conference downtown. “And those hospitals are sometimes the least well equipped to handle cases as they become more acute.”
“We are continuing to rely on experts at the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and (Illinois Department of Public Health), but you don't need to be an epidemiologist to understand what's going on here. This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
The current vaccination rates – nearly 53% of the state’s population is vaccinated – “are not enough to blunt the ferocity of the delta variant,” he said.
The statewide vaccine requirement goes into effect on Sept. 5 and will apply to “all P-12 teachers and staff, all higher education personnel, all higher education students, and health care workers in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, urgent care facilities and physician's offices,” Pritzker said.
“Individuals working in these settings who are unable or unwilling to receive their first dose of vaccine will be required to get tested for COVID-19 at least once a week, and IDPH and (the Illinois State Board of Education) may require more frequent testing in certain situations, like in an outbreak,” he said.
The CDPH impressed that too many Chicagoans are still unvaccinated, particularly in hardest-hit communities, and that nearly all cases of severe disease, hospitalization and death occur among the unvaccinated.
In two of the four lakefront mid-South Side ZIP codes, case positivities increased over the week of Aug. 15-21 from the week before, to above 5%.
- In 60653, covering North Kenwood and Oakland, 56 people tested positive for COVID-19 out of 1,130 tests — a 5.3% positivity — up from 39 the week before, and a person died, the same as the week before. The number of tests performed dropped 3%, and 40.5% of all residents are fully vaccinated, up 0.4% from the week before.
- In 60615, covering northern Hyde Park, southern Kenwood and northern Washington Park, 75 people tested positive out of 1,207 tests, up from 39 the week before — a 3.6% positivity — and no one died, the same as the week before. The number of tests performed dropped 2%, and 57.2% of residents are fully vaccinated, up 0.3% from the week before.
- In 60637, covering southern Hyde Park, southern Washington Park and Woodlawn, 75 people tested positive out of 1,254 tests, up from 57 the week before — a 6.9% positivity — and no one died, down from one the week before. The number of tests performed rose 12%, and 40.7% of residents are fully vaccinated, up 0.4% from the week before.
- In 60649, South Shore, 39 people tested positive out of 1,397 tests — a 3.1% positivity — down from 46 the week before, no one died, the same as the week before. The number of tests performed dropped 22%, and 35.7% of residents are fully vaccinated, up 0.5% from the week before.
Citywide, 54.9% of all Chicagoans are vaccinated. The numbers are accurate as of Aug. 26 and are listed at chi.gov/coviddash.
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. City operators are available at 312-746-4835 to handle any questions regarding the vaccine.
Up to 10 people at once can be vaccinated at their homes by appointment through the Protect Chicago at Home program; hours are weekdays, 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Anyone who gets vaccinated (both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available) will receive $25 Visa gift cards, which can be used anywhere Visa is accepted. More information is at 312-746-4835 or chicago.gov/athome.
Neighborhood pharmacies, including Katsaros Pharmacy, 1521 E. 53rd St., are offering the vaccine by appointment and on a walk-in basis. Appointments at Katsaros are available online at katsarospharmacy.com for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Howard Brown Health is offering the COVID-19 vaccine to everyone aged 16 and older, with sign-up at 872-269-3600. Friend Health is scheduling vaccine appointments at all three of its South Side locations at friendhealth.as.me; vaccines are also available on a walk-in basis. UChicago Medicine is also vaccinating everyone, regardless of patient status. The scheduling number is 1-888-824-0200.
The Cook County government is offering sign-up for vaccines at vaccine.cookcountyil.gov.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.