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Gov. J.B. Pritzker gets his shot, raises concerns over rising coronavirus cases. ‘I think people maybe are being a little less careful.’ By DAN PETRELLA, JENNY WHIDDEN and GREGORY PRATT Chicago Tribune March 24, 2021.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker expressed concern Wednesday that the state may be losing ground in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic, then rolled up his sleeve and received one of the more than 5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses that have now been administered to Illinois residents.

Pritzker said officials will be watching the numbers to see whether recent reversals in several positive trends are the result of faster spreading variants of the virus or possibly “a blip in the data.”

“We’ll keep watching very closely, but I can tell you there is more activity going on, and I think people maybe are being a little less careful,” Pritzker said before receiving the single dose Johnson & Johnson shot at an Illinois National Guard-run mass vaccination site in Springfield

Officials on Wednesday reported 2,793 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, the highest daily count since 2,838 cases were recorded Feb. 11. The state has averaged 1,992 new daily cases over the past week, up from an average of 1,579 a week earlier.

The statewide case positivity rate — the percentage of cases as a share of total tests — reached a seven-day average of 2.8% Tuesday, the highest level since the state reported the same rate for the week ending Feb. 22.

“I’ve been to this movie before,” Pritzker said in discussing where Illinois stood against the virus.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker receives the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine from registered nurse NaTasha McCoy on March 24, 2021, at the state-supported mass vaccination site in the Orr Building at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker receives the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine from registered nurse NaTasha McCoy on March 24, 2021, at the state-supported mass vaccination site in the Orr Building at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. (Justin L. Fowler / The State Journal-Register)

His comments echo similar warnings from state and city officials. Chicago’s top public health official have pointed to rising cases among young adults as an area of particular concern.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday said Chicago’s case numbers are “going in the wrong direction” and resemble the period before last fall’s second surge.

“I’m very concerned. If you look at our data in the last week to 10 days, it feels like October when we saw the second surge happen,” Lightfoot said.

Equally concerning, Lightfoot said, is an increase in the percentage of positive tests. Because of that, she said, Chicago isn’t in a position to talk about any more reopening issues, “particularly when it comes to expanding capacity indoors.”

“The last thing any of us want to do is take any steps back,” Lightfoot said. “But we are in a place where both (Chicago public health commissioner) Dr. (Allison) Arwady and myself are very concerned and we’re sounding the alarm.”

The governor’s words of caution came just six days after he laid out a new reopening plan that promises to lift restrictions on businesses once half of all state residents 16 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine — if the state hasn’t seen a reversal in key measures of virus transmission. Restrictions would initially be eased once 70% of those 65 and older have received a single dose, with the same caveat.

As of Wednesday, 66% of those 65 and older and 32% of those 16 and older had received at least one dose.

Pritzker, who previously indicated that he was eligible to be vaccinated because of his medical history, said he waited to get his shot until the vaccine was opened to government employees. That happened Monday, when eligibility also expanded to include higher education employees and members of the media.

The governor said he wanted to receive his shot in public to demonstrate the safety of the vaccine.

“I’m not asking you to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself,” Pritzker said before doffing his sport jacket and rolling up his sleeve to receive his shot.

The mass vaccination site at the state fairgrounds where Pritzker spoke is one of 14 being run by the National Guard that are intended to be open to any eligible Illinois resident.

Unlike the Chicago-area sites, where appointments are still hard to come by, the fairgrounds site has appointments available online through the Sangamon County Department of Public Health website, scdph.org.

Outside Chicago, vaccine eligibility will further expand on Monday to include food and beverage workers, construction trade workers and religious leaders. The groups are being added to the previously eligible categories of front-line workers, people 65 and older, and those 16 and older with certain preexisting health conditions.

The city of Chicago, which receives its own vaccine supply from the federal government, is set to expand eligibility to people with preexisting health conditions and a broader group of “essential” workers Monday as well.

The state plans to open eligibility to everyone 16 and older on April 12, but the city hasn’t said exactly when it will follow suit. President Joe Biden has set a May 1 target for universal eligibility.

The state administered 107,219 coronavirus vaccinations Tuesday, bringing the average number of daily shots over the past week to 97,680, down from an average of 102,223 the previous week. Tuesday’s shots coupled with an adjustment to the data due to previous reporting problems by pharmacies, brought the total number of doses administered to 5,036,364.

Nearly 1.9 million people — close to 15% of the state’s population — have been fully vaccinated, receiving either two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s.

Officials also reported 20 additional fatalities Wednesday, bringing the statewide death toll to 21,136. The total number of known infections in Illinois since the start of the pandemic is 1,227,708.

As of Tuesday night, 1,261 people in Illinois were hospitalized with COVID-19, with 269 patients in intensive care units and 130 patients on ventilators.

After declining dramatically since the start of the year, the number of people in hospitals with the coronavirus has begun to climb once again this month, along with the number of patients in intensive care and on ventilators.

gpratt@chicagotribune.com

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