SPRINGFIELD — Tempering good news about increased availability of COVID-19 vaccine in Illinois with the reality of rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the state's top doctor warned Thursday that the public should not let up on mask-wearing and social distancing.
"This resurgence is here," Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said as she appeared with Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a vaccination site in the Chicago suburb of Forest Park.
"Yes, we have a vaccine, and we are elated about that, but it doesn't mean that this pandemic is completely over," Ezike said.
She and Pritzker said people 16 and older throughout the state will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine beginning Monday, though many areas, including Sangamon County, have offered expanded eligibility to that level for weeks.
The Democratic governor, presiding over a state where 1.3 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 21,457 have died, said vaccines are the "best protection" against COVID-19 variants and the best way to avoid severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.
Ezike said more than 99% of the 2.5 million Illinoisans fully vaccinated have avoided hospitalization from COVID-19.
More than 6.7 million doses of vaccine have been administered statewide, Pritzker said. Almost three out of every four senior citizens and 42% of Illinoisans 16 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine, he said.
"We have everything we need to get to the other side of this crisis as vaccine shipments increase and more Americans are ready to be vaccinated," Pritzker said.
But Ezike and other public health experts said COVID-19 variants and lax attitudes toward masking, social distancing and other precautions are contributing to more spread of COVID-19 among the unvaccinated.
For example, Ezike said fewer than 1,100 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized statewide on March 12, compared with almost 1,800 on Wednesday.
And on March 15, IDPH reported 782 new COVID-19 cases, compared with almost 4,000 new cases Wednesday, she said.
The department reported 3,739 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and 34 more deaths.
Sangamon County's total new daily cases have risen in the past two weeks, as has the COVID-19 test-positivity rate, said Gail O'Neill, director of the Sangamon County Department of Public Health.
O'Neill said she was "not alarmed but a little concerned" about the situation. "People have to realize we're still in the fight."
She said vaccine appointments continue to be available at the two locations operated by the local health department for anyone 16 and older, regardless of whether they live in Sangamon County.
Appointments can be made for the county's mass-vaccination site at the Illinois State Fairgrounds' Orr Building and the drive-through site at 2833 S. Grand Ave. E., Springfield by going online at scdph.org.
Appointments also can be made by calling (217) 210-8801 for the state fairgrounds site and (217) 321-2606 for the department's drive-through site.
Demand for vaccine is not as "hardy" as it was a few weeks ago, but O'Neill said it's too early to know whether vaccine hesitancy is playing a role.
The two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are offered at the two fixed sites, while Johnson & Johnson's one-dose vaccine is offered at the temporary vaccine clinics operated by the county in cooperation with the Illinois National Guard, O'Neill said.
Sangamon County residents can sign up for vaccine clinics that will be offered April 15 at the Community Center, 141 W. Main St., in Williamsville, April 21 at the fire station in New Berlin and April 22 at the Masonic Hall, 150 Reichert Road in Divernon.
All of the clinics will take place from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. by appointment only. The phone numbers to call for appointments are (217) 566-3806 for the Williamsville site, (217) 488-6312 for the New Berlin site and (217) 628-3416 for the Divernon site.
The statewide hotline for people seeking vaccine appointments is (833) 621-1284.
Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell said 106 COVID-19 vaccinations were given Wednesday to county jail inmates and employees with the help of the Illinois National Guard and correctional staff. More than two-thirds of inmates opted not to get shots, Campbell said.