SPRINGFIELD — Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a new state program Monday that aims to increase vaccine access in low-income, vulnerable communities and to connect residents across the state to COVID-19 assistance programs for transportation, food, utilities or other resources.
The COVID-19 Pandemic Health Navigator Program serves areas of the state outside of Chicago and Cook County, and is funded by $60 million in grants from the Illinois Department of Public Health to regional organizations.
“This program is about one-on-one connections involving established, trusted members of the community, whether that’s a federally qualified health center or a church or an LGBTQ+ center, a senior center or a local branch of the NAACP,” Pritzker said at a news conference at VNA Health Care in Aurora.
The program is administered through the Illinois Public Health Association, the Illinois Primary Health Care Association and OSF Healthcare System and is already in operation in communities across the state, the governor’s office said in a news release. Information on how to connect with the program can be found at www.HelpGuideThrive.org.
“These are local community organizations who know their peers, their students, their colleagues, people who speak their languages and know their neighborhoods,” Pritzker said. “When someone tests positive for COVID-19 or comes in contact with someone else who has, pandemic health navigators are there, ready to assist with social service supports, personal care, education, vaccine access and even critical logistics like ensuring access to groceries and food when a person has to isolate.”
The program’s soft launch earlier this year began with efforts to supply community-based organizations and federally qualified health centers with funding, training and resources to provide local health care support to Illinois residents, according to a state news release.
To date, 65 community-based organizations and 23 federally qualified health centers are participating in the program, with more than 400 community health workers and regional supervisors employed thus far, according to the release.
Cyrus Winnett, interim president and CEO of the IPHCA, said the program seeks to address misconceptions around the pandemic and the vaccine, as well as vaccine hesitancy that exists in marginalized communities.
“While services offered by local health departments can vary, the PHN program seeks to reach populations that are not currently accessing or seeking quality care, including but certainly not limited to racial and ethnic minorities, rural communities, people experiencing homelessness, members of the LGBTQIA community, and more,” he said. “By collaborating with community-based organizations and local health departments, we are identifying gaps in services and providing much needed resources to people who need them the most.”
Pritzker said the state is in an “interim period” where vaccine demand and supply are about the same, and supply may soon exceed demand.
“And so, we’ve made sure… the county public health departments that no longer need replenishing of supplies, at least at the moment, are not taking new vaccines. And instead, those vaccines are going to areas where there is still higher demand,” Pritzker said. “I’m looking forward to a point where anybody and everybody who wants to get a vaccine can literally decide to do it or get it at the moment that they’ve made that decision.”
A total of more than 8.86 million vaccine doses have been administered in Illinois as of Sunday evening, out of more than 10.91 million doses received by the state, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
On Sunday, 50,512 doses were administered in Illinois, with the seven-day rolling average of vaccines administered daily at 105,873 doses – down from an average of more than 125,000 one week ago.
More than 3.79 million Illinoisans have been fully vaccinated, or about 29.75 percent of the state population.
On Monday, Pritzker acknowledged the transition to lessened statewide restrictions from the current Phase 4 guidelines has been hampered by increasing cases and hospitalizations, despite progress with vaccinations.
Even as vaccination levels have exceeded 50 percent for all Illinoisans and 70 percent of seniors having received at least one dose – two metrics required to move to the “bridge phase” that allows for greater reopening – the number of cases and hospitalizations for COVID-19 have risen statewide. Cases and hospitalizations must remain stable in order for the state to move to the bridge phase or Phase 5, which is essentially back to normal in terms of capacity limitations.
The state reported 2,137 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 Monday out of 49,236 tests conducted. The rolling seven-day statewide case positivity rate was 3.5 percent Monday for the third straight day.
That’s down one-tenth of a percentage point from Friday, three-tenths of a point from April 22, and nearly a full point from its recent peak of 4.4 percent on April 13.
As of Sunday night, 251 COVID-19-positive individuals were on ventilators, with the weekly average ventilator use about 16 percent higher from Monday to Sunday than the one-week period prior. There were 506 COVID-19 patients using intensive care unit beds as of Sunday night, with the weekly average use about 4.5 percent higher from the week prior.
There were 2,083 hospital beds in use on Sunday night, while the weekly hospital bed usage increased about 1.3 percent from the week before, which was the lowest weekly rate of increase in the past five weeks.
The state reported 10 additional deaths due to COVID-19 related illness on Monday, bringing the statewide death toll to 21,836 individuals.