UPDATED: Leaders optimistic with Moderna vaccine on horizon
Gov. JB Pritzker takes questions at his daily COVID-19 briefing in Chicago on Friday, Dec. 18. (Credit: Blueroomstream.com)
COVID-19 death toll surpasses 15,000
Editor's note: The story has been updated with further coverage of the governor's daily breifing, and with the FDA's approval of Emergency Use Authorization for Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine.
By SARAH MANSUR
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker announced Friday that more than 17,000 doses of the first coronavirus vaccine have been administered to Illinois frontline health care workers outside of Chicago, up from 3,500 doses on Thursday.
Pritzker said Illinois hospitals could begin to receive shipments of a second COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the drug company Moderna, as early as next week. That announcement comes one day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s advisory committee recommended the use of the Moderna vaccine in people ages 18 and older. The FDA on Friday evening granted Emergency Use Authorization for the Moderna vaccine.
The first vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, received such authorization from the FDA last week.
The Moderna vaccine was shown to be 94.1 percent effective after two doses four week apart, compared to the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine that was found 95 percent effective after two doses three weeks apart.
“This is yet another very exciting development, and it reinforces and it brightens the light at the end of the tunnel for all of us who have been fighting through COVID-19,” Pritzker said.
News about the vaccines comes as the state’s coronavirus death toll surpassed 15,000, rising to 15,015 among 886,805 cases and more than 12 million test results reported since the beginning of the pandemic.
On Friday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 7,377 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, including 181 additional deaths.
Statewide, the rolling seven-day average case positivity rate was 8 percent, which decreased four-tenths of a percentage point from the day prior. This is the fifth straight day that the rolling seven-day average case positivity rate has decreased, and it’s the lowest rate recorded since Nov. 1.
At the end of Thursday, there were 4,690 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois, a decrease of 114 from the day prior. Approximately 25 percent of hospital beds remained open statewide.
There were 1,023 intensive care beds in use by COVID-19 patients as of Thursday night, a decrease of 40 from the day prior. That left 20 percent of ICU beds open statewide.
COVID-19 patients occupied 589 ventilators, an increase of 14 from the day prior, leaving 72 percent of ventilators available statewide.
Two of the state’s 11 mitigation regions — Region 1, which encompasses the northern and western portion of the state, and Region 6, which covers portions of eastern and central Illinois — have met the conditions laid out by the Pritzker administration to return to Tier 2 mitigations, from Tier 3, which all 11 regions entered by Nov. 20. But the governor said that does not mean existing regulations will be rolled back in the near future.
Both Region 1 and Region 6 have experienced a test positivity rate less than 12 percent for three consecutive days, had greater than 20 percent available intensive care unit and medical or surgical bed availability for three consecutive days, and saw a decline in the number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital in 7 out of the last 10 days.
Tier 3 mitigations strictly limit capacity at retail stores and other Illinois businesses and require casinos and video gambling terminals to close, among other economic restrictions, which would no longer apply in Tier 2. However, Tier 2 mitigations still prohibit indoor dining at restaurants or bars.
“First of all we're very glad that things are moving in the right direction. We're also concerned the numbers have not come down as precipitously as we would have liked to have seen by now. And so that's of great concern to us. We're still seeing 7,000, 8,000, 9,000 cases every day, and we still have a positivity rate that's far from the (World Health Organization) recommended 5 percent,” Pritzker said in response to a question about the regions that met criteria to return to Tier 2.
Despite the regions meeting the criteria, Pritzker has said no regions will be removed from stricter mitigations at this time, and it is unclear when the rollback of mitigations may begin.
“Since the surge hit us, it's been important for us to get the right trajectory of cases, and hospitalizations and ICU use, and to make sure that we get to the right level. Remember, there are still many hospitals around the state, that have limited ability to take in new ICU patients, or even new hospitalizations. And so we're trying very hard to bring it down all across the state before we start to relieve the regions from Tier 3 to Tier 2.”
IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike was asked about whether the anticipated increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations that was expected after the Thanksgiving holiday, due to greater numbers of people traveling and gathering, has been avoided since that spike has not yet occurred.
“I am really happy to say that we did not see the significant surge that we were very much concerned about in relation to all the reports that we saw of the large amount of travel here in the state of Illinois,” Ezike said. “I think all the mitigations that we had in place in advance of Thanksgiving have been helpful. So, no we did not see a surge following Thanksgiving. I'm waiting for this final week's tally, which will come on Monday, but so far that is a good thing that we can report.”
Pritzker also announced that after Friday’s news briefing, his administration will hold news conferences on “an as needed basis” instead of daily.
“I can promise that you'll still be hearing from Dr. Ezike and me often as we provide regular updates on vaccine distribution, the status of our regions in the Restore Illinois plan and general statewide COVID-19 trends,” Pritzker said.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.