All Illinoisans 16 and older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine beginning April 12, Gov. JB Pritzker announced Thursday.
The move will apply to suburban Chicago and downstate but not Chicago itself because Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city health department control vaccine eligibility within the city’s boundaries. All essential Chicago workers and people at least 16 years old with certain health conditions will be eligible to begin receiving a vaccine March 29, Lightfoot said yesterday. But, it will likely be April or May before most of those newly eligible Chicagoans are vaccinated.
Pritzker said he hopes this announcement — making much of Illinois eligible for the vaccine next month — clears up any confusion people have had over whether they qualify for the vaccine yet.
“That’s one of the reasons why I’m really glad that we’re gonna move away from this idea of taking sections of the population because I think there’s some confusion out there,” Pritzker said. “I think because the supplies are ramping up at a good clip, we believe we can take away that confusion and allow people to get an appointment relatively fast once after we start on April 12 opening it up to everyone.”
The governor also announced details of a new “bridge phase” in reopening parts of the state’s economy before the state returns to its pre-pandemic footing.
The “bridge phase” will allow for greater capacity limits in bars and restaurants and other public venues and apply to the full state, including Chicago. It won’t begin, however, until 70% of seniors in the state are vaccinated and the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations don’t spike for 28 days. Currently, that number of seniors vaccinated sits at 58%, Pritzker said.
“It’s time to begin to cautiously move toward normalcy, and it’s imperative we do so in a way that maintains all the progress we’ve made to date,” Pritzker said Thursday in announcing the changes.
This strategy, Pritzker said, is part of an effort to allow for a slow increase in capacity limits and a gradual roll out to normalcy because of fears that rapidly spreading variants could hit Illinois and upend weeks of improving COVID-19 case counts and lower hospitalization rates.
Under the bridge phase, restaurants would be limited to seating parties no larger than 10 people and tables must remain six feet apart. Indoor standing areas would be limited to serving no more than 30% capacity.
Health and fitness centers will be able to operate at 60% capacity while limiting indoor fitness classes to no more than 50 people.
Offices, personal care facilities, retail, amusement parks, museums, theaters, zoos and spectator events will be capped at 60% capacity.
Outdoor festivals will be limited to 30 people per 1,000 square feet.
Phase 5 — a fully reopening of the state’s economy — would occur after 50% of those over the age of 16 are vaccinated and a monitoring of the COVID-19 cases for 28 days.
Pritzker said the state’s requirement that face coverings be worn in public would remain in place until the Centers for Disease Control recommends that they are no longer necessary to help control the spread of the virus.
“We absolutely will not have any mask-burning parties,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health said.
The Cook County Department of Public Health, which oversees the majority of the suburbs, hasn’t decided yet whether to follow Pritzker’s timeline for reopening the economy or to greatly expand vaccine eligibility next month. That hinges on being able to vaccinate other groups of suburban residents as they qualify for a shot before moving on, said Dr. Rachel Rubin, co-lead of the county’s public health department.
On Monday, the county is expanding vaccine eligibility to suburban residents 16 and older who have certain underlying medical conditions or have a disability. Conditions include cancer, pregnancy, obesity, and those who are immunocompromised from an organ transplant.
The county also has opened up its suburban mass vaccination sites to any Illinoisan who is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine and books an appointment. People can now register at vaccine.cookcountyil.gov. Those vaccinations begin on Monday.
“We have to sort of play it ear by ear, day by day and see how things go,” Rubin said. “One thing that was suggested by the governor today was that even if we were able to open up to everybody basically that’s eligible … is that there still could be designated days or slots for those higher risk individuals.”
She said her inclination is to be “extremely cautious” about opening up the economy.
“Our numbers of new cases have leveled out,” Rubin said. “They are not continuing to decrease at this moment. They have really leveled out. And we really want to see a continual decrease in the number of new cases on a daily basis as we continue to open up because we don’t want to see increases of cases as we open up.”
“It’s not a definitive answer,” Rubin continued. “I think that we will gradually reopen, but it might be a little more gradually than the state might initially recommend.”
Chicago has announced it intends to expand vaccine eligibility to more public-facing, frontline workers on March 29 and to those as young as 16 if they have underlying health conditions.
After the governor’s announcement Thursday, Lightfoot’s office responded with a statement saying the city would be re-evaluating guidance, but current regulations remain in place.
“While we are hopeful that we can expand eligibility to include all residents relatively soon, the ability to do so will depend on vaccine supply,” the statement read in part. “Chicago is evaluating the guidance released today and will be releasing updated City guidelines early next week.”
The state’s move to allow vaccinations for everyone 16 and older beginning on April 12 puts the state well ahead of a mandate announced last week by President Joe Biden to open vaccines to everyone by May 1.
WBEZ’ Claudia Morell contributed.
Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold cover Illinois politics and government for WBEZ. Kristen Schorsch covers Cook County and public health for WBEZ. Follow them on Twitter @davemckinney @tonyjarnold @kschorsch.