Pritzker renews push for COVID-19 vaccines, testing amid omicron surge

President Joe Biden and Gov. JB Pritzker are renewing their push for people to get vaccinated.
President Joe Biden and Gov. JB Pritzker are renewing their push for people to get vaccinated.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Dec. 27, 2021 at 4:22 PM CST
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CHICAGO (WGEM) - COVID-19 continues to surge through Illinois with an average of 500 new COVID patients going into hospitals each day. More than 4,700 people are hospitalized for complications with the virus, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants to stop the spread.

As people head home from holiday gatherings, many across the country are contracting COVID-19. President Joe Biden and Pritzker are renewing their push for people to get vaccinated.

Biden on Monday morning told the National Governors Association the country is prepared to take on the omicron surge. The president said the United States knows what it takes to save lives, protect people and keep schools and businesses open.

“Things are better,” Biden said. “But we do know that with a rise in cases, we still have tens of millions of unvaccinated people, and we’re seeing hospitalizations rise. It means our hospitals in some places are going to get overrun, both in terms of equipment and staff.”

The Biden administration is sending millions of gowns, gloves, masks and ventilators to states. The president is also deploying a thousand military doctors, nurses and medics to help hospitals in need. Pritzker says all Illinoisans need to do their part to keep people safe.

“Get your vaccination,” Pritzker said Monday afternoon. “Get your booster. Wear your mask.”

The Pritzker administration is boosting the effort to get people vaccinated by holding more clinics to meet the demand for shots with the rise in omicron cases. Illinois is also providing more than 100 people to help staff regional public health sites to prepare and administer vaccines and enter data.

COVID-19 community testing sites will also be open six days a week instead of four starting Jan. 3.

“Every single event being held during this holiday season will have one or two uninvited, unwanted guests - delta and-or omicron,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “One or both could be there. And I’m not saying this to scare. I’m just saying this for people to be aware.”

Ezike said testing is critical, but she stressed that testing is not protection. She said people need to get vaccinated and boosted in order to protect themselves and others.

Local health leaders from the Chicago suburbs, Central, and Southern Illinois all pleaded with people to get vaccinated. They have delayed surgeries for some people in need because they are dealing with too many unvaccinated patients.

“People are dying from this virus that don’t need to die,” said Rex Budde, president of Southern Illinois Healthcare. “We’ve been at this for almost two years now. The number one thing we can do is get vaccinated.”

The governor says monoclonal antibodies, anti-viral pills, and PPE will also head to communities in need. Pritzker said he will continue to do everything possible to protect all Illinoisans, regardless of vaccination status.

“But what kind of year 2022 turns out to be depends on all of us doing what is best for all of us,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker and Ezike continue to note that the vast majority of people contracting COVID-19 and ending up in the hospital are unvaccinated. They also said people should avoid large crowds for New Year’s Eve. Both argue people should wear masks if they are gathering inside with groups.

Meanwhile, Chicago and Cook County residents will need to show vaccine cards to enter restaurants, bars, and gyms starting next week. While Pritzker didn’t endorse that idea statewide, he encouraged local leaders to do what they feel is right to stop the spread.

“We don’t want to take any chances,” Ezike said. “We don’t want to gamble. No Russian roulette. Let’s try to prevent the hospitalization in the first place. Whether it’s a mild one or a severe one, I think we would all prefer to prevent that hospitalization in the first place.”

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