By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker said the state continues to make gradual progress in suppressing the spread of COVID-19 and the state’s public health director said she plans to receive a virus vaccine when it is her turn in line.
They made the comments during a daily COVID-19 briefing in Chicago on Thursday, the same day the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was set to consider emergency approval of a COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the drug company Pfizer.
“At the beginning of the week, I said that I was hopeful that some of the recent early improvement in our COVID leading indicators will continue. And I’m glad to say that we have yet to see a reversal in our progress,” Pritzker said.
Another 196 COVID-19-positive individuals were reported dead over the previous 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 13,861 among 823,531 confirmed or probable cases and 11.4 million test results reported. But positivity rates and hospitalizations were showing a general downward trend.
Still, Pritzker said, “I cannot overstate how preliminary this progress is.” He also said the state is not outside the window of realizing a potential surge from the Thanksgiving holiday.
“We unfortunately still have hundreds more Illinoisans in the hospital fighting COVID-19 than we did at our spring peak, but we’re also hundreds below our overall pandemic record to date of November 25,” he said.
He and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike urged holiday celebrants to keep gatherings to one household, avoiding large gatherings.
Ezike said while it could be several months before a vaccine is widely available to the general public, it’s important to continue to observe public health mitigations in the meantime.
“I urge you not to plan an end-of -year party or holiday party in the large gatherings that we’re used to, but start planning for the end-of-pandemic party for next year,” she said.
When the vaccine becomes available, she will take it if it is indeed approved by the FDA, she said.
“I do trust in vaccines. I trust in the development and approval system that has been created in this country, and from what is known, the safety and the efficacy of the vaccine has been evaluated appropriately,” she said.
She said it’s important for public health officials to dispel rumors about the vaccine.
“I think more people than not are interested in getting this vaccine, and the job of the Public Health Department, of the government, is to ensure that everyone has the adequate information with which to make the best choice for themselves and their families,” she said. “So it’s not going to be about coercing anyone. It’s about communicating with everyone, making sure they have the right facts to make the best decision.”
Ezike said Federally Qualified Health Centers, state-run testing sites and other places will distribute the vaccines in an effort to make them available to all who want them.
“We also are going to be having mass vaccination drives in parking lots, in malls, you know, we’re going to use our community-based testing sites to try – as well as testing – to be able to have a line where you can have vaccination once it’s readily available,” she said.
If the vaccine receives approval, Pritzker has said it could be available to health care workers in certain counties as early as next week. Nursing home patients are also at the head of the line. After that, more vulnerable populations could get the vaccine before its availability to the general public, which is expected to be several months away.
She said every dose of the vaccine will be logged in a registry system which will show if there are communities that have been underserved.
IDPH reported another 11,101 new confirmed or probable cases Thursday out of 114,503 test results reported. That made for a one-day positivity rate of 9.5 percent, which brought the seven-day rolling average case positivity rate to 9.5 percent, a decrease of one-tenth of a percentage point from the day prior.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have leveled as well, although available bed capacity remains near pandemic lows. As of Wednesday night, there were 5,138 people hospitalized in Illinois for COVID-19, a decrease of 146 from the day prior. That left about 24.6 percent of beds available.
COVID-19 patients occupied 1,081 intensive care unit beds at the end of Wednesday, a decrease from the day prior, leaving 615 staffable ICU beds available statewide for a capacity of 18.5 percent.
There were 606 ventilators in use by COVID-19 patients, also a decrease from the day prior, leaving about 70 percent of ventilators available.
Regionally, positivity rates ranged from 10.1 percent in Region 3 which includes the Springfield area and several surrounding counties, to 15.2 in Region 4, which includes the Metro East region on the Missouri border.
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.