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Pritzker expands Illinois vaccine eligibility, gives updated reopening plan

So far, Illinois has administered the COVID-19 vaccine to more than 1 in 4 Illinois adults over the age of 16

CHICAGO — Illinois residents 16 and older will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in April. And the state has outlined a plan that will allow businesses to increase capacity if certain COVID-19-related metrics are met.

Governor J.B. Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike made those announcements during a press conference Thursday morning.

Currently, every region of the state is in Phase 4 of the five-phase mitigation plan. The newly announced metrics offer residents a bridge between Phase 4 restrictions and the “new normal” operations of Phase 5.

The “Bridge Plan” will serve as a transition period with higher capacity limits and increased business operations, a press release stated. All regions of the state will move through the bridge phase and to Phase 5 together.

“Phase 5 means that we’re fully vaccinated and so this is very encouraging," Cory Jobe of Great Rivers and Routes Tourism Bureau said of the new Bridge Plan. "A lot of our small businesses have just held on by a thread. This bridge phase means now we can soon begin to reopen, host special events, gather outdoors and increase indoor dining. Of course, we will have to practice social distancing and wear masks, but it will be a big shot for our economy.”

Illinois will continue its mask mandate through this phase.

“COVID-19 has not gone away, but the light we can see at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter as more people get vaccinated,” said Pritzker. “It’s time to begin to cautiously move toward normalcy, and it’s imperative that we do so in a way that maintains all the progress we’ve made to date.”

The bridge to Phase 5 includes higher capacity limits for places like museums, zoos and spectator events as well as increased business operations.

To advance into the Bridge Plan, the entire state must:

  • Reach a 70% first dose vaccination rate for residents 65 and older
  • Maintain a 20% or lower ICU bed availability
  • Hold steady COVID-19 and COVID-like illness hospital admissions, mortality rate and case rate over a 28-day period.

To advance to Phase 5, the state must reach a 50% vaccination rate for residents age 16 and over and meet the same metrics and rates required to enter the transition phase, over an additional 28-day period.

The possibility of returning to normal has restaurants in Alton excited.

“I can’t wait," said Rob Lenhardt, the Manager at Mac’s Downtown restaurant and sports bar in Alton. "I think when we do come back to normal, we’re going to be better than ever. I think people are ready to get back at it, going out to eat. They haven’t had that luxury, said Lenhardt.

You can watch the full press conference in the video below:

Pritzker also announced the expansion of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to include residents age 16 and older beginning on April 12. 

The expansion is due to an increasing national vaccine supply and the state averaging 100,000 vaccine administrations per day, according to the governor’s office.

So far, Illinois has administered the COVID-19 vaccine to more than 1 in 4 Illinois adults over the age of 16, including more than 58% of residents age 65 and older, the release stated.

In December, Illinois received its first shipment of about 109,000 doses. This week, more than 800,000 doses were delivered to the state. Based on current projections, the state expects that number to surpass 1 million doses in the first week of April.

All vaccines are administered by appointment only. Even though eligibility is expanding, making an appointment to receive a shot may take time, the governor’s office said in the release. For information on vaccine locations and how to make an appointment, click here.