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Health chief: Virus vaccine plan ‘constantly in progress’

December 8, 2020 GMT

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois’ COVID-19 vaccination plan prioritizing counties by death rates will change as the plan progresses, the state’s public health director said Monday, while clarifying that hospital staff will be eligible even if outside a targeted county.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike’s comments came as the state announced that the coronavirus pandemic had claimed another 90 lives, the administrator of a nursing home for veterans was fired because of an outbreak that killed 32 residents, and a Chicago alderman admitted he broke the rules by allowing indoor dining at his restaurants.

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As cold weather pushes people indoors and officials await an expected winter surge in COVID-19 cases — there were 8,691 new infections Monday — Ezike and her staff must also juggle complicated logistics for 109,000 initial doses of one or more vaccines that could shortly obtain federal approval and be shipped to 10 regional hub hospitals in Illinois.

“We can include (health staff at) the hubs that are going to be distributing this,” Ezike said.

“We’re constantly trying to tweak and adjust to get a better and better plan,” she said.

Ezike said that although the initial vaccine shipment falls far short of the 764,000 health care workers and nursing home residents designated to get it first, hundreds of thousands more doses will quickly follow.

Under the plan rolled out Friday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Chicago will receive 23,000 doses of the vaccine that requires two doses administered weeks apart. The Illinois Department of Public Health will dole out the remaining 86,000 to the 50 Illinois counties with the highest death rates, Ezike said.

Medical centers in Peoria, Springfield, Urbana and Carbondale are in counties not on that list, raising the specter that front-line staff at facilities who have treated thousands of coronavirus patients will not be included in the first phase of the vaccination rollout.

A spokeswoman for HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield issued a statement saying the facility “will follow the state’s plan.” But Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder said regional distributors should be near the front of the line. Langfelder has noted that Springfield’s hospitals treat patients from other counties that haven’t enforced Pritzker’s rules about wearing masks and limiting gatherings.

“If the vaccine is going to these counties because of the grave situation they’re in and they’re not taking mitigating action, that’s of great concern,” Langfelder said. “Our hospitals are going to step up to the plate ... but we need to be cognizant of how our actions are impacting others, whether in our own community or surrounding communities.”

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Overall, COVID-19 has taken 13,353 lives in Illinois among 796,264 cases. And on Monday, it cost the job of LaSalle Veterans’ Home administrator Angela Mehlbrech. A coronavirus outbreak at the north-central Illinois facility has led to the deaths of 32 residents and prompted a Department of Human Services investigation.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs announced that assistant director Anthony Vaughn is interim administrator while a permanent chief is sought.

Pritzker said that 32 of 96 residents and 21 staff members have tested positive for the virus before unleashing vitriol on “those who oppose proven mitigations at every turn.”

“The worst-case scenario that I have tried every day to prevent is now our reality in LaSalle,” Pritzker said.

It’s not just maverick scofflaws in rural outposts flouting Pritzker’s Tier 3 rules on social interaction, which ban indoor bar and food service, cap the number of customers in retail stores, and limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people.

Chicago Alderman Tom Tunney acknowledged Monday that he violated state and city indoor dining orders by allowing patrons inside restaurants he owns. The admission came after a blog devoted to police issues disclosed the practice at his Ann Sather restaurants.

“We have, on occasion, sat regular diners in the back of the restaurant. ... I made a mistake, and I’m owning up to it. I should have not sat regular customers in my restaurant whatsoever,” said Tunney.

Tunney, a Democrat, said the number of customers allowed inside was “very limited” and that they observed social distancing and mask-wearing rules.

Pritzker called it an “error in judgment.”

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Babwin reported from Chicago.

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Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor