Rockford, Illinois News

Officials: ‘Mutant’ virus ‘probably’ spreading in Illinois

CHICAGO — As the state gets closer to making everyone 16 and older eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, Illinois health officials are warning of a double mutation variant of the virus.

The variant was discovered in California and health officials said they could know in the coming days if it is spreading around Illinois.

“Is it circulating here? Probably,” said Dr. Rachel Rubin from the Cook County Department of Public Health during a news conference Thursday.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said much about the variant is unknown.

“What we are going to be continually studying throughout this process is what are the properties of this variant? Is it more transmissible? Will it evade vaccine protections? Will it evade natural protections?” Ezike said.

On Monday, everyone 16 and older in the state will be eligible for a vaccination, although more than 80 counties have already done so.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday 150,000 first-dose appointments for next week would open at state-supported mass vaccination sites.

“As a reminder, even with improved vaccine shipments, patience continues to be the watchword here,” Pritzker said.

Illinois has administered nearly 7 million doses of vaccine thus far. The governor said as of Thursday, there are more than 1,000 vaccination locations in Illinois, including 20 National Guard operations as well as at Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Jewel-Osco and others.

The expansion comes despite the state expecting to see a drop in Johnson & Johnson vaccines next week after a factory mistake ruined 15 million doses.

On Thursday, IDPH reported 3,739 new confirmed and probable cases of the coronavirus, including 34 additional deaths.

The preliminary seven-day statewide test positivity from April 1-7 is up to 4.8%.