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White House Unveils New COVID Plan: What It Means In Illinois

Patch logo Patch 3/3/2022 Jeff Arnold
State health officials have announced that COVID-19 transmission rates remain high across Illinois despite the recent lifting of indoor mask mandates by state and city officials. © Shutterstock State health officials have announced that COVID-19 transmission rates remain high across Illinois despite the recent lifting of indoor mask mandates by state and city officials.

ILLINOIS — People who test positive for COVID-19 at pharmacies in Illinois will be able to get anti-viral pills “on the spot” under a new strategy unveiled Wednesday by the White House.

The new national COVID-19 preparedness plan still must be approved and funded by Congress, but formalizes pledges President Joe Biden outlined in his State of the Union speech to make the virus threat more manageable.

It makes more vaccines available and calls for better surveillance of new variants, but rules out school and business closings as optimism grows that COVID-19 will soon be an endemic disease.

As the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic approaches on March 11, the statewide mask mandate was lifted on Monday for many indoor locations. The City of Chicago also lifted its indoor mask mandate along with the requirement that patrons of bars, restaurants, fitness centers, and other businesses show proof of vaccination.

Public school students are no longer required to wear masks across Illinois as face-coverings became optional in recent weeks. Chicago Public Schools officials said Wednesday that they too will be lifting the mask requirement for students very soon.

The lifting of mandates comes, however, at a time when the transmission rate of COVID-19 remains high for the majority of the state, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Several downstate counties have dipped into the substantial transmission rate category while only two counties (Putnam and Wabash) have dropped to moderate, IDPH officials said.

Hospitalizations have plummeted from more than 3,000 hospitalizations at the start of February to just 951 on Tuesday. Meanwhile, state health officials said that the state reported around 13,000 new COVID-19 cases over the past week as opposed to 120,000 less than two months ago.


Video: Washington state to lift indoor mask mandate (Associated Press)

“We look to a future when Americans no longer fear lockdowns, shutdowns, and our kids not going to school,” the plan states. “It’s a future when the country relies on the powerful layers of protection we have built and invests in the next generation of tools to stay ahead of this virus.”

In the United States, COVID-19 has claimed nearly 1 million lives in two years, more than in any other country, according to Johns Hopkins University, which maintains a detailed world tracker and map at its Coronavirus Resource Center website.

Nearly 80 million people in the United States alone have been sickened in the five coronavirus waves that took an exacting toll on the economy, disrupted school for millions of students and upended everyday life.

“It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtown again,” Biden said Tuesday. “People working from home can feel safe to begin to return to the office.”

Americans’ growing weariness with the pandemic is reflected in Biden’s sagging approval ratings. A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows that only 41 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing, and only 33 percent think the country is headed in the right direction.

In a nod to the growing coronavirus fatigue, Biden highlighted a turning point in the pandemic in his State of the Union speech. “Tonight I can say we are moving forward safely, back to more normal routines,” he said.

Here are some things to know about the plan, which still requires funding from Congress:

  • The Pfizer antiviral pills that will be made available at pharmacies reduce the chances of hospitalization by up to 90 percent. Biden said in his State of the Union speech up to 1 million pills will be available later this month, and more than double that amount will be available in April.
  • Treatments and high-quality masks will be made available to people who are immunocompromised.
  • Free coronavirus tests are still available from the government, even for people who previously ordered four tests.
  • Steps are in place to respond to new variants with new vaccines within 100 days instead of many more months or years.

About three-fourths of adult Americans are fully vaccinated, and hospitalizations are dropping dramatically as the United States moves past the highly contagious omicron variant. The Biden administration is mindful of last year’s premature victory lap ahead of the delta variant and is reminding

Vaccines for children under 5 haven’t yet been approved, but Biden said in his speech scientists are working to get those shots in the arms of young children.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control eased mask guidance for most Americans.

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