COVID cases stack up

Kankakee County Health Department administrator John Bevis talks in November about the influx of positive cases, each represented by a piece of paper in the stack of the more than 3,000 the department has received in just 18 days.

KANKAKEE — As Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced plans this week to further open eligibility for the COVID vaccine, the question by some is where are those doses going to come from?

Among those asking is Kankakee County Health Administrator John Bevis, who says the doses coming into the county have continued to dwindle even as the governor continues to open eligibility to more groups of people.

The state is currently in Phase 1B of its vaccination plan, which initially only included non-health care frontline essential workers, people aged 65 and older, and inmates.

But this week, the governor announced during a Wednesday press conference in Quincy that individuals of all ages who have comorbidities and underlying conditions would be eligible to receive the vaccine by Feb. 25. Pritzker said the expansion comes as a result of increased availability of doses at the federal level.

Here in Kankakee County, Bevis said they don’t have enough doses to support the current eligibility much less an expanded list.

In the beginning of the vaccination program, the county was receiving 2,000 doses a week. Next week, Bevis said, the county is expecting to receive 300 doses. Another 300 doses will be delivered the following week and then 600 doses in three weeks.

“The governor is adding state legislators and those with comorbidities. Tell me how we will be able to administer more when we are only getting 1,200 doses in the next three weeks,” Bevis said.

The small amount of doses has slowed the number of people receiving their first of two doses in Kankakee County, Bevis said. So far, 12,574 doses have been administered in Kankakee County. That includes 3,107 people, or 2.82 percent of the county population, who have been fully vaccinated.

More than 12,000 Kankakee County residents have signed up to receive the vaccine when it’s available to them, he said.

At this rate, he said, it will take a year or more to vaccinate every resident in the county.

“It is slim pickings,” he said. “It’s not coming here. And they are not telling us why.”

But it’s not just Kankakee County that’s struggling. The lack of available doses is occurring statewide, Bevis said. But, he added, there is no method to determining how many doses each county receives.

For example, Kankakee County, with its population of 110,000 people, is receiving 1,200 doses a month. Meanwhile Adams County, which has a population of 60,000, has received more than 2,000 doses.

“They are getting twice as much as us. They have a veterans home in Quincy but we have a veterans home in Manteno, too,” Bevis said. “I’d like to know why they are able to get more.”

State asks for patience

In a hearing Thursday in Springfield before the Senate Health Committee, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike testified, noting the state faces significant challenges in meeting vaccine demand with limited federal supply.

“Our greatest challenge is that we don’t have enough doses to satisfy all of the people that need it, want it, and that are eligible,” Ezike told the committee.

As of Thursday, Illinois has administered over 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, with 2.72 percent of the population having received both required doses.

Ezike said the state is currently receiving approximately 280,000 vaccine doses per week, a number that she expects will steadily increase as the federal government works to ramp up production.

Until then, Ezike stressed continued patience and noted the state will aim to distribute the vaccine as quickly as it arrives.

“What we need from you and our partners is to be able to share this message of patience,” Ezike said. “We knew six months ago that the doses would be limited in the beginning.”

Patience is also sought at the local level as well. Bevis said his department’s staff has been taking many calls from people wanting to know when they will get their shots. They have not all been pleasant conversations, he said.

“They are frustrated. I get that,” Bevis said. “But some of these people have been abusive to my staff. We are working hard and are doing all that we can do.”

Bevis said he just wants state officials to be upfront.

“Just tell us the truth,” he said.

Tim Kirsininkas of Capitol News Illinois contributed to this story.

Jeff Bonty is a reporter for The Daily Journal. He can be reached at jbonty@daily-journal.com and 815-937-3366.

Reporter

Jeff Bonty has worked for The Daily Journal since September 1986, starting in the sports department before moving to news reporting in 2002. He's a native of Indiana and graduate of Purdue University. His email is jbonty@daily-journal.com.