Illinois Department of Health Director Dr. Ngozi O. Ezike – File Photo. | Photo: Colin Boyle/My Block, My Hood, My City.

The state of Illinois reported on Sunday its lowest ever number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital since the start of the pandemic as cases continue to decrease.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) reported 1,249 new cases of coronavirus and 22 additional deaths on Sunday.

The statewide seven-day positivity rate was at 2.4% and over 79,000 vaccine doses were administered. To date, Illinois has been allocated 3.57 million vaccine doses from the federal government and administered 2.82 million of them.

Throughout the state, 1,265 patients with COVID are in the hospital, including 303 patients in the ICU and 150 on ventilators.

The 1,265 patients in the hospital are the lowest number reported since the pandemic began in March. The state has seen a steady drop in cases and hospitalizations since the latest peak in November.

In Region 9, which includes Lake and McHenry counties, 84% of ventilators remain available and 31% of ICU beds are available.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced on Thursday that Illinois residents of all ages with pre-existing conditions are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. However, Lake and McHenry County health departments both said they won’t be expanding due to limited supply of vaccine.

“With significantly increased supply on the way from the federal government and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine poised for approval, the Pritzker administration launched Phase 1B+ and has asked all local health departments and providers to begin vaccinating this medically vulnerable population as soon as possible,” the governor’s office said in a statement Thursday.

The expansion includes residents 16 and older with disabilities or underlying conditions who aren’t otherwise covered in previous eligibility categories.

“I’m thrilled to see that we can effectively administer more than 100,000 doses a day, and with the federal supply projected to hit 100,000 doses delivered daily in mid-March, we must be prepared to vaccinate this population as quickly as possible,” he added.

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The expanded list of eligible conditions follows CDC guidelines and includes cancer, chronic kidney disease, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), diabetes, heart conditions, immunosuppressed states from a solid organ transplant, smoking, obesity, pregnancy, pulmonary diseases and sickle cell disease.

State-supported sites outside of Cook County have begun taking appointments for the Phase 1B “plus” group.

A complete list of those sites can be found here. State officials said appointments will remain limited as federal supply continues to steadily ramp up.

The Lake County Health Department said in a statement that they will not be expanding to the Phase 1B “plus” group until 60-70% of the current Phase 1B is vaccinated.

The McHenry County Department of Health said they will also continue focusing their efforts on vaccinating the current Phase 1B, which includes residents 65 and older and frontline essential workers, due to the lack of vaccine supply.

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Despite both counties saying they will not expand to the Phase 1B “plus” group, those who are part of that group are still eligible and could be vaccinated at pharmacies or other places that receive vaccines directly from the state or federal government and not the local health department.

Beginning in mid-March, 100,000 doses of vaccine per day are expected to be allocated to Illinois by the federal government. The state is currently receiving around 60,000 per day.

The FDA has granted an Emergency Use Authorization for the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which will bring another 100 million doses nationwide.