Chicago entering next phase of Illinois’ COVID-19 vaccine program on Monday, as officials predict indoor dining could resume within days

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Gregory Pratt and Alice Yin, Chicago Tribune
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Chicago will join the rest of Illinois by advancing to the next phase of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program on Monday, which will include residents age 65 or older and front-line essential workers, including teachers, the city said Tuesday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, meanwhile, said she hopes indoor dining “soon” will be allowed at restaurants across Chicago after Gov. J.B. Pritzker eased other COVID-19 restrictions on the city.

Citing improved COVID-19 numbers, Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago’s public health commissioner, predicted indoor dining could be “days” away.

“We’re still a few days, could be a week, away from this, but if progress continues in the right way, I think it is likely that we may be able to move all the way to the Tier 1 mitigation, which is when we are able to reopen indoor dining,” Arwady said during an online question-and-answer session. “We’re not there yet, but I want you to know that the way the numbers are heading, I am feeling very optimistic.”

Arwady also announced on Tuesday that the city’s vaccination plan for phase 1b, which includes Chicagoans 65 and older and front-line essential workers, will formally begin this coming Monday. Those oldest and at highest risk will be prioritized.

The city began its vaccination campaign with phase 1a last month, which has included health care workers and long-term care facility residents and staffers.

A transitional stage between phase 1a and phase 1b began on Monday, during which hospitals with leftover doses could start vaccinating their oldest and highest risk patients.

Arwady said the majority of phase 1b will happen in February and March, and the city will open up a sign-up form for “limited” appointments. But she hopes the majority will register for vaccine injections through their health care provider, pharmacy or employer, she said.

“We will have the ability for people to sign up for appointments, but the appointments are going to again to be quite limited,” Arwady said.

Tentatively, phase 1c, which includes those 16 or older with health risks and all other essential workers, is set to begin on March 29, while the rest of Chicagoans 16 or older can get the shot starting May 31.

Arwady warned, however, that at the rate of 34,000 first doses being shipped to the city per week, Chicago will be overwhelmed with demand exceeding supply during phase 1b, which includes 360,000 residents over age 65 and the same amount of front-line essential workers. She called on the federal government to pick up the pace.

The city and state also have been slow to use all the vaccine they have already received. A Tribune analysis last week found that, in Illinois, 447,348 vaccine doses had been administered as of Friday, at least 45% of the doses Illinois received, according to the state health department. A total of 345,678 people had been given at least one shot, equaling about 2.7% of the state’s population.

Chicago had administered at least 44.8% of its 229,950 doses as of Thursday, according to city data. In total, 66,602 Chicago residents have gotten at least the first dose, amounting to 2.5% of the city’s population.

Younger children likely will not get vaccine until the summer at the earliest, Arwady said.

Lightfoot and Arwady made their comments after the Illinois Department of Public Health said the state was launching contracts for a surge staffing program at hospitals. Because of the new program, state officials said they loosened certain COVID-19 restrictions.

In Chicago, the looser rules mean indoor fitness classes can have 10 people, and museums and casinos can now reopen at limited capacity, but indoor dining remains prohibited.

Lightfoot thanked Pritzker and the state’s top doctor, Ngozi Ezike, for “understanding that adjustments needed to be made in the way hospital capacity is calculated.”

“The bottom line here is, hospitals need to be ready and be COVID ready and we are. So I’m glad that this change was made to open up the possibilities for our museums and gyms to be able to open up at limited capacity, and I’m looking forward to a day and hopefully soon when we see indoor dining at restaurants,” Lightfoot said.

Echoing Arwady, Lightfoot said the city is “trending in the right direction.”

Reopening indoor restaurants has been a key political priority for Lightfoot. The mayor criticized Pritzker in October when he announced that he would be closing indoor service at bars and restaurants due to a spike in coronavirus cases, but she later dropped her objection.

In recent months, Lightfoot has attempted to position herself as a friend to bars and restaurants, though she has also faced criticism for the city’s anti-coronavirus measures, including stricter rules on liquor sales, which she’s since rescinded.