CHICAGO — Federal, state and local officials gave updates on their plans for distributing a COVID-19 vaccine once its approved Wednesday, as the state continues to see more coronavirus-related deaths than at any other point in the pandemic.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 8,256 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, as well as 179 additional deaths.
Federal officials said they are prepared to distribute Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine once it gets approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities will be first in line when Illinois receives its first shipment of doses as early as next week.
“With all the excitement now on the vaccine, it will be months before it’s available to the general public,” Governor JB Pritzker said Wednesday. “It’s important we do everything in our power to temper the spread of the virus in the weeks and months we all want people alive and healthy when we get there.”
State officials said they will be rolling out a portal for people to sign up to receive a vaccine. Some county health departments including Lake County already have ways for residents to register.
News on a coming vaccine comes as Illinois is in the midst of the deadliest period of the pandemic to date.
When measured over a 14-day period that accounts for data delays around the holiday weekend, the average number of COVID-19 deaths reported in Illinois rose to another record-high of 131 a day Wednesday.
Viewed over a longer 30-day period, Illinois has set a record each of the past four days, with the state reporting 3,456 COVID-19 deaths over the past 30 days.
Deaths and hospitalizations are often seen as a “lagging indicator” of the spread of the disease. The high number of deaths seen in recent days comes just over two weeks after the peak of a fall surge in reported cases.
WATCH ABOVE: Governor JB Pritzker and heath officials are expected to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday
Deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. have soared to more than 2,200 a day on average, while coronavirus cases per day have eclipsed 200,000 for the first time on record.
According to the CDC, Illinois continues to rank second in the nation in the number of deaths reported over the past seven days, although five other states including neighboring Iowa reported more deaths as compared to their overall population.
A northern Illinois coroner’s office recently purchased a refrigerated trailer in the event deaths related to COVID-19 overwhelm his office’s capacity to store bodies.
“The way our numbers were rising at an alarming level, and I do say alarming, I did not want to be caught without any spaces left,” Winnebago County Coroner Bill Hintz said.
According to IDPH, 5,284 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday night, including 1,176 in intensive care and 647 on ventilators. This represents a slight rise in hospitalizations for a third consecutive day, while the number of patients remains above levels reported in the spring.
All of Illinois remains under stricter Tier 3 coronavirus mitigation measures which took effect on November 20, while nearly every region has seen COVID-19 test positivity rates remain flat or decline in recent days.
No region has yet reached the metrics needed to technically qualify for a lessening of restrictions, although Pritzker said Tier 3 would remain in effect statewide in the coming weeks as experts warn of a post-Thanksgiving surge in COVID-19 cases.
Illinois has not yet seen a spike in confirmed cases, as both its 7-day average of cases and case positivity rate continued to decline Wednesday. According to IDPH, 9.6% of all tests performed from December 2-8 confirmed a new case of COVID-19.
IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said previously that Illinois would likely see signs of a spike in cases by the end of this week.
With 92,737 new COVID-19 tests reported Wednesday, Illinois is now averaging about 95,000 tests over a seven-day period, which remains below the peak seen before the Thanksgiving holiday.
State health officials continue to report results from rapid saliva-based antigen tests as “probable” cases, which accounts for about 16% of the total tests reported Wednesday.