Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a press conference in Forest Park on April 8. Pictured with her from left to right are Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins, Cook County Board Commissioner Brandon Johnson and Governor J.B. Ptitzker | Maria Maxham, Editor

More than 31,000 vaccines have been administered at the Cook County’s mass vaccine site in the former HOBO building, 7630 Roosevelt Rd., according to Israel Rocha Jr., chief executive officer for Cook County Health, at an April 8 press conference at that location.

Rocha spoke at the Forest Park Mall vaccine site along with Governor J.B. Pritzker, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins and other officials.

At the press conference Pritzker announced that beginning April 12, vaccination eligibility will open up statewide.

“Starting Monday every Illinoisan 16 and over, no matter where they live or where they work, will be eligible to access these lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines,” said Pritzker.

Pritzker said that next week, 150,000 new first-dose appointments will be available at the state’s 11 state-supported mass vaccination sites, including the one in Forest Park.

“That’s on top of tens of thousands of newly available appointments at hospitals and local county sites and other mass vaccination sites throughout the region,” Pritzker said. “Those appointments will open in the coming days, and many more will come after that.”

J.B. Pritzker (center) at a press conference in Forest Park on April 8. | Maria Maxham/Editor

“COVID-19 vaccination is one of the strongest most powerful tools we have to fight this pandemic together,” Ezike said. “The three COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for use in the United States are all highly effective against preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death.”

Despite the good news regarding more vaccines and broader eligibility, Ezike cautioned the public to continue to take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which she said has been increasing recently in the state.

On March 12, about a month ago, Ezike said the state reported fewer than 1,100 people in the hospital from COVID-19. On April 7, she said, there were 1,800 hospitalized.

Likewise, Ezike stated that statewide, the number of cases is rising. On March 15, the state recorded 782 new cases as compared to almost 4,000 cases on April 8, according to Ezike.

“So yes, we have a vaccine, and we are elated about that. But it doesn’t mean that this pandemic is completely over,” Ezike said. “We do need to continue to wear our masks before we can return to what we were doing pre-pandemic in the way we did it pre-pandemic. So this resurgence is here. And until we have better herd immunity, we will continue with this layered public health measured response, both wearing mass washing your hands, careful with crowds, keeping six feet of distance, getting tested answering the call when the contact tracers call. All of that is important and of course get vaccinated as soon as you can.”

Preckwinkle echoed Ezike’s sentiments, reminding people that precautions, such as washing hands and wearing masks, are still crucial.

“As we talk about normalcy, we must also keep in mind that there’s still much to be done to protect our residents. We must continue to wash our hands, to wear our masks, and to practice physical distancing,” Preckwinkle said, while, she added, continuing to vaccinate as many people as possible.

Like Ezike, she mentioned the upward trend in COVID-19 cases and warned that steps will be taken if numbers continue in that direction.

“If we have trends in the wrong direction, we will not hesitate to tighten restrictions on gatherings, indoors or outdoors,” Preckwinkle said. “Our future rests upon the decisions made in this critical moment.”