CHICAGO — Illinois health officials released plans for distributing a COVID-19 vaccine once one becomes available Wednesday, as the state reports 69 additional coronavirus-related deaths — the biggest increase since mid-June.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the 69 deaths reported Wednesday occurred across the state and were mostly among individuals who were 70 years of age and older.
The daily death toll related to the virus has not passed 60 in Illinois since late June, while Wednesday’s total is the highest since 87 deaths were reported on June 17.
Health officials have been sounding the alarm over an increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. Every region established in the Restore Illinois plan continues to see rising test positivity rates as of Wednesday.
“Regional trends are still moving in the wrong direction,” Governor JB Pritzker said Wednesday.
Pritzker reiterated the guidance of health officials have been offering for months: wear a mask, maintain social distance, wash hands and get a flu shot.
When measured over a period of seven days, the daily average of deaths has climbed since early October to about 39 as of Wednesday, a level near those reported in late June.
Pritzker additionally warned Wednesday that the state and Illinois State Police will not hold back from enforcing mitigation rules.
“They have the ability to issue citations, and also, with the information we get on the state level, we can take away people’s liquor license, which I have been reluctant to do,” Pritzker said.
Data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks Illinois as fourth in the country with 265 deaths over the past seven days and 13th in the country when population is taken into account, behind neighboring Indiana, Iowa and Missouri.
IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said a recent resurgence in COVID-19 cases is connected to a rising number of deaths occurring in the state.
“The spike in cases that we’ve been seeing over the past six weeks, unfortunately it is turning into additional mortality,” Ezike said.
The IDPH reported 4,342 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, while the test positivity rate from October 14-20 rose to 5.7%, also near levels last seen in early June.
With more than 66,000 new tests reported Wednesday, the state’s weekly testing average is now around 69,000, more than triple the number reported when the state reported a similar positivity rate in early June.
WATCH ABOVE: Governor JB Pritzker gives his daily COVID-19 update Wednesday
In order to keep expanding testing across the state, Governor Pritzker said the state will begin shipping 170,000 new Abbott BinaxNow rapid tests to health departments across the state Wednesday, with plans to ship an estimated 3 million kits through the end of the year.
State health officials also released their plan for distributing a COVID-19 vaccine once one becomes available Wednesday. Pritzker said the plan is designed to provide an “equitable distribution” of the tests, and first priority will go to the “most vulnerable populations.”
“That includes, for example, frontline health care workers and first responders who directly interact with and treat COVID patients, as well as staff and residents in long-term care facilities,” Pritzker said.
Dr. Ezike said once they are released, no one will be turned away from getting a vaccine due to their inability to pay.
“We will coordinate the delivery of the vaccine, which will go straight to the providers,” Ezike said. “Once they arrive it will take many, many months at the minimum to actually get them into the arms of the people of Illinois, and so this will unfold unfold in phases.”
Restrictions including a ban on indoor dining at bars and restaurants and limits on gatherings to 25 people will be put in place in DuPage, Kane, Kankakee and Will counties starting Friday, as well as in southern Illinois starting Thursday.
The state imposed the restrictions after those regions passed the “failsafe” level of a 7-day COVID-19 test positivity rate of more than 8% for three consecutive days.
Data reported Wednesday shows the North Suburban region including Lake and McHenry counties is nearing the limit with a rate of 7.7% as of October 18. Rates in the West Suburban, South Suburban and Southern regions all remain above 8%.
While hospital resources and COVID-19 hospitalizations remain within official guidelines across the state, the South Suburban region is nearing the state’s warning levels, with 25% of intensive care beds available.
The IDPH reports 2,338 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday night, including 502 in intensive care and 194 on ventilators. Health officials estimate 97% of confirmed cases have recovered to date.