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Illinois identifies case of UK COVID-19 variant. Pritzker outlines next phase of vaccinations

Illinois identifies case of UK COVID-19 variant. Pritzker outlines next phase of vaccinations

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BJC begins vaccinating frontline caregivers

Dr. Nikoleta Kolovos, right, of Children's Hospital pediatrics, receives her first COVID-19 vaccination on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, from Dr. Ryan Fields, professor of surgical oncology at Washington University School of Medicine at the schools campus near BJC hospital in St. Louis. BJC began the first-round of frontline healthcare workers at eight of their locations throughout Missouri. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — Illinois officials on Friday said that the state has identified its first known case of a variant of COVID-19 that emerged in the fall in the United Kingdom, and is believed to be more infectious.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker also announced that the state will open up vaccinations for the next group of Illinoisans on Jan. 25.

At the same time, Missouri officials learned on Friday that they will receive fewer vaccine doses next week than previously projected.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Friday that the discovery of the U.K. variant in the state means residents should take extra precautions in the weeks ahead. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Friday modeled that it could become the predominant variant in the U.S. in the early spring. Other variants have been identified here and in South Africa, Nigeria, Brazil and Japan.

“If we do not continue to wear our masks, watch our distance, and avoid gatherings, this new variant could sweep across the state as it swept across the U.K.,” Ezike said. “That would lead us back to a place that we don’t want to go.”

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams said that the U.K. variant has not been identified in Missouri as of yet, but noted that as more have emerged, the process for detecting the U.K. variant has become more arduous.

“Just because we haven’t detected it, doesn’t mean we don’t need to be very vigilant,” Williams said.

Williams also said that the state had projected it would receive about 140,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine next week, but was informed Friday morning that the allotment would be closer to 85,000 doses, still higher than previous weeks. This week the state received 75,000 doses.

Williams said he thought the U.S. was holding in reserve tens of thousands of doses for Missouri and other states. A federal official told the state Friday that wasn’t the case.

But Williams said Missouri still would have opened vaccinations for Phase 1B. The first tier opened on Thursday, allowing inoculations for public health employees, first responders and emergency service workers. The second, which includes residents 65 and older, or with certain health conditions, is slated to open on Monday.

“We never want to be in a situation, because of having constrained the number of people who can be vaccinated, that vaccine sits on shelves and doesn’t end up being in people’s arms,” Williams said.

Health care workers in Missouri are injecting almost 11,000 vaccine doses every day, the state said.

Locally, the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force on Friday reported that area hospitals have administered 76,847 doses so far, and between 51% and 65% of frontline employees have received vaccine.

Dr. Alex Garza, who leads the task force, said the health systems will tell the public in the next few days how to sign up for vaccinations.

“We still have to get a supply of vaccine, we still have to get a workforce in place, and then a scheduling process in place in order to now meet that very large demand,” Garza said.

In Illinois, with 10 days until Phase 1B opens, officials are already cautioning that vaccinations will be a lengthy process.

“Vaccine supplies are just extremely limited,” Pritzker said.

Illinois’ Phase 1B includes residents 65 and older, along with first responders, kindergarten through 12th grade education workers, food and agriculture workers, manufacturing workers, corrections workers and inmates, postal service workers, public transit workers, grocery store workers, and shelters and adult day cares.

State officials promised to release more details before Jan. 25, including a website to help residents locate vaccination sites. As vaccinations increase, pharmacies, urgent care clinics and doctors’ offices will be able to offer them. Some larger employers will also be able to host their own clinics. The Illinois National Guard will set up vaccination sites across the state and deploy teams to aid with vaccinations, including, in the coming weeks, in St. Clair County.

As of Friday, any Illinois region that meets certain criteria can loosen pandemic restrictions. In order to do so, a region must have three days with less than 12% average positivity rates, more than 20% availability of hospital beds, and declining coronavirus patient numbers. Three of the state’s 11 public health regions moved into lower restrictions on Friday, but the Metro East did not because it did not meet the requirements for hospital bed availability.

Illinois on Friday reported 6,642 new cases of COVID-19, down from 6,652 the day before. The state’s seven-day average has declined for six consecutive days, following an uptick in early January. The state also reported 121 more deaths due to the virus.

Missouri reported 2,231 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, down from 2,780 the day before. The seven-day average of new cases fell to 2,490, from 2,790 the day before, according to a Post-Dispatch analysis. The state also reported 28 more deaths due to the virus.

Annika Merrilees • 314-340-8528 @annie3mer on Twitter amerrilees@post-dispatch.com

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