Illinois COVID Update: United Center to host mass vaccination site; IL reports 2,441 new coronavirus cases, 55 deaths

Uber providing 20K free rides to new site
CHICAGO (WLS) -- The United Center's parking lots will soon be federally-run mass vaccination sites, officials announced Friday.

As the state's vaccine supply ramps up, federal, state and local officials announced a United Center mass COVID-19 vaccination site will open March 10.

With the Bulls and Blackhawks still playing games at the United Center, the arena itself will not be used. Instead, the parking lots will be utilized, with actual shots being given in Parking Lot E.

FEMA and the U.S. Department of Defense will take the lead on running the site with particular focus on vaccinating minority populations which have been relatively slow in getting doses. The staff at the arena is also experienced in dealing with large crowds and traffic.

Anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 shots could be given daily, which is significant when you consider the city of Chicago currently receives about 8,300 doses a day. The site will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.

"Vaccinations for this center are being provided to the state above and beyond the regular allocations, and will not affect the supply of ongoing vaccine distribution efforts,' said Kevin Sligh, Sr., acting administrator for FEMA Region 5.

Illinois residents who are currently eligible for the vaccine from every part of the state can come to the site. Illinois seniors aged 65 and over will have exclusive access to appointments first, followed by all other eligible groups in the state's vaccination schedule.

Information about where and how to make appointments will be available in coming days. Demand is anticipated to be high.

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The site, which will do walk-up COVID-19 vaccinations in Parking Lot E, will open on March 12 and be run by FEMA.

The site will only have walk-through vaccinations with no drive-through appointments currently planned, despite some initial reports. The program will run for a minimum of eight weeks.

The federal government is also picking up 100% of the cost, as opposed to the usual 75%-25% cost sharing plan between federal and state governments that FEMA typically uses.

Gov. JB Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth gave more details Friday morning.

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Gov. Pritzker confirmed Friday that United Center will become a new mass COVID vaccine site.

Uber donated 20,000 rides to help Chicagoans get vaccinated. While these free rides to and from the vaccination site are available citywide, Uber credits will be targeted to residents on the South and West sides to help close equity gaps on vaccination access.

Chicagoans that sign up for vaccine appointments through ZocDoc will be asked if they need a ride; if yes is selected, they will receive a promo code for a free ride either automatically or with the appointment confirmation later that evening. Uber's ride credits will only work to and from the vaccination center and will eliminate the cost of transportation for any Chicagoan who otherwise may not be able to get to and from an appointment.

United Center ownership, the Cook County Health and Hospital System, the city of Chicago and the Chicago Medical Society have been collaborating on the project.

"What you're looking at here is essentially increasing the vaccination rate for the city by about 50 to 70%, which is very, very significant." said Professor Hani Mahmassani, director of the Northwestern University Transportation Center.

However, Mahmassani said if the goal is to reach more people in more areas of the city, a large central location may not be the best use of resources.

"Rather than having one facility that's vaccinating 7,000 people, I think it would be more effective to have seven facilities that are each vaccinating 1,000 persons per day," said Mahmassani.

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Crews cleared the parking lot of snow Thursday night in preparation for the arrival of heavy equipment.

"They are ready, and they're ready to do whatever's needed to do in order to get people in and out and get their vaccines," 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett said. "You have a lot of good transportation with the expressway, the trains. You have two train systems, the Green Line and the Blue Line, buses. You also have a community that's used to having traffic in it."

Gov. JB Pritzker's office said in a statement Thursday: "Governor Pritzker believes the Biden Administration's efforts to launch high capacity vaccination sites across the country are essential to equity, and he appreciates the robust collaboration with the President and his team. Our partners at Cook County and in the City of Chicago are also essential to our collective success, especially as we work together to make sure we're ready to use the increasing supply of vaccine in the most equitable way possible."

The United Center site is one of several federally-run mass vaccination locations planned across the country. There are others already in California, New York, and Texas.

Earlier this month, Chicago's public health commissioner said the city had completed planning and done walk-throughs at the United Center, as well as Wrigley Field and McCormick Place. But so far, there's no word if any additional large venues in Chicago will be utilized.

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Illinois announced 102,670 vaccine doses were administered Thursday.

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Illinois Department of Public Health reported 2,441 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 55 deaths on Friday.

IDPH reported a total of 1,183,667 COVID-19 cases, including 20,460 deaths.

As of Thursday night, 1,393 patients in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 336 patients were in the ICU and 174 patients with COVID-19 were on ventilators.

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Within the past 24 hours, laboratories have reported testing 92,256 specimens for a total of 17,988,085 since the pandemic began.

The preliminary seven-day statewide test positivity from Feb. 19-25 is 2.7%.

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A total of 2,726,745 doses of vaccine have been delivered to providers in Illinois, including Chicago, with an additional 444,500 doses allocated to federal government partners for long-term care facilities, bringing the total number delivered in Illinois to 3,171,245.

The IDPH said that vaccine distribution numbers are reported in real-time and vaccine administration numbers lag by as much as 72 hours.

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IDPH reports that a total of 2,543,620 vaccine doses have been administered, including 307,382 at long-term facilities. The seven-day rolling average of vaccines administered is 68,988.

The deaths reported Friday include:

- Champaign County: 1 male 90s
- Christian County: 1 male 70s
- Coles County: 1 female 80s

- Cook County: 2 females 40s, 3 males 40s, 1 female 50s, 1 male 50s, 2 females 60s, 4 males 60s, 3 females 70s, 3 males 70s, 1 female 80s, 4 males 80s, 2 females 90s, 1 male 90s
- Crawford County: 1 male 70s
- DuPage County: 1 male 50s
- Grundy County: 1 male 70s
- Kane County: 1 male 80s
- Kendall County: 1 female 90s
- Lake County: 1 male 70s
- LaSalle County: 1 male 70s
- Livingston County: 1 male 70s
- Massac County: 1 female 80s
- McHenry County: 1 female 60s, 1 male 80s
- McLean County: 1 male 60s
- Mercer County: 1 female 80s
- Peoria County: 2 females 90s
- Sangamon County: 1 female 80s
- St. Clair County: 1 female 70s, 1 male 70s, 1 female 90s
- Vermilion County: 1 male 50s
- Warren County: 1 female 90s
- Will County: 1 female 70s, 1 female 90s
- Winnebago County: 1 male 70s, 1 male 90s
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