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WATCH ABOVE: Governor Pritzker and health officials give an update on COVID-19 in Illinois Tuesday as vaccinations begin across the state

CHICAGO — Healthcare workers across Illinois are rolling up their sleeves to receive the first round of COVID-19 vaccinations Tuesday, providing a dose of hope as the state continues to see more deaths related to the disease than at any other point of the pandemic.

The first doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine were administered to healthcare workers across the state this morning, including at Loretto Hospital on Chicago’s West Side.

Governor JB Pritzker was on hand as workers received their doses at the OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria and called it an “exciting moment.”

“These are our heroes, and our heroes now have stepped forward to get their vaccine and show the way for everyone else,” Pritzker said.

In total, Illinois is receiving 109,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in the first round of shipments, which will be administered to healthcare workers and residents in long-term facilities.

Many of the doses were delivered to Illinois’ National Strategic Reserve warehouse Monday and are being divided up and delivered to health departments across the state. Health departments in Chicago, Cook County and Lake County received them directly from the federal government.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 7,359 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 as well as 117 related deaths Tuesday, as the deadliest period of the pandemic to date continues in the state.

Illinois reported a record 3,767 coronavirus deaths over the past 30 days and has seen record monthly totals each day over the past week. The state’s 7-day average of deaths is currently around 146 a day, near where it has been since early December.

Illinois ranked seventh in the nation in the number of weekly deaths per 100K residents on Monday, according the CDC, while neighboring Iowa now ranks top in the nation.

Indiana also ranked fourth in its number of new COVID-19 cases over the past week when compared to its population as of Monday.

Indiana health officials reported 4,347 new COVID-19 cases and 129 related deaths Tuesday, as well as a 12.5% positivity rate from December 2-8. The state has seen a record-high averages of both COVID-19 hospitalizations and reported deaths over the past few weeks.

While Illinois continues to see a high number of reported COVID-19 deaths, the average number of cases has continued to decline over the past week and with no indication yet of a post-Thanksgiving “surge upon a surge” predicted by experts.

As of Tuesday, the state is averaging 8,471 new reported cases over a seven-day period, while the case positivity rate from December 8-14 dropped again to 8.6%.

As all of Illinois remains under Tier 3 coronavirus mitigation measures, nearly every region of the state has seen test positivity rates flatten or decline in the past week.

The North Suburban region including Lake and McHenry counties joined the East-Central region in meeting the state’s original criteria for moving to less-restrictive Tier 2 coronavirus restrictions as of Tuesday.

However, Governor JB Pritzker said previously that the Tier 3 restrictions would remain in place through the period when experts said a post-Thanksgiving surge could occur.

Under Tier 2 restrictions, “indoor recreation” venues like theaters, museums and casinos could reopen, sports could resume under certain restrictions and groups of up to 10 people would be permitted.

Hospitalizations continue to decline in Illinois as well, with the IDPH reporting 4,965 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday night, including 1,057 in intensive care and 598 on ventilators.

While hospitalizations have been declining, they are now equal to the highest levels seen during the initial surge of COVID-19 in the spring.