CHICAGO (CBS) — As COVID case numbers go down, the number of people in Chicago getting the vaccine is going up, even people not categorized in the current Phase 1B, which is the elderly and essential workers.

At a news conference at Pacific Garden Mission, the head of the Chicago Department of Health (CDPH), Dr. Allison Arwady, said she was excited to be at another vaccination site and said those staying at the mission will get the COVID vaccine.

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“We want people experiencing homelessness to know that they are a priority for the city and their health matters,” Arwady said, who added the number of COVID cases in the city continues to go in the downward direction.

“As of today, we have the lowest percent positivity that Chicago has seen since COVID arrived in Chicago. We are at a 3.2% test positivity for average over the last 70 days. We’re averaging just 257 new cases per day that’s been dropping day after day as well,” Arwady said.

The doctor said the number of people getting vaccines in Chicago is also increasing.

“We have had more than half a million COVID vaccine doses administered just here in the city of Chicago. We have one in nine Chicago residents who have now gotten at least that first dose of vaccine one in four Chicago residents over 65,” Arwady said. “Every single week 95% of our vaccine or more is getting pushed out to providers, more than 90% is in arms and reported less than seven days later. Last week, more than half of the doses for Chicago residents went to Black and Latinx Chicago residents.”

CBS 2’s Marie Saavedra asked Dr. Arwady about a flyer in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood that said anyone 18 living in that specific zip code, 60639, can get a COVID vaccine — regardless of being in categorized in the groups now allowed to get the vaccine. It is happening at Steinmetz College Prep, 3030 N. Mobile Ave.

Arwady said while the city is still prioritizing the elderly and essential workers, people living in the Protect Chicago Plus communities, 15 in total, are also considered a priority, regardless of age.

Using what’s called the COVID Vulnerability Index, Arwady said until COVID cases are reduced in those areas, it’s important to vaccinate as many people as possible.

“These are the communities that really have been hit hardest by COVID have the most barriers to vaccination. Things like not a lot of primary care, not a lot of insurance, a lot of underlying conditions. And our goal in those settings is to make sure that we can continue to direct vaccine there until we see those communities at vaccination rates that are at or above the city average for vaccine. Arwady said. “If people in these communities say to us, it’s really intergenerational households that are driving our biggest concern, or say there are settings that maybe have not been defined within 1B, and they say these are the kinds of work settings that we have more concern, we allow vaccine to be administered really in the way that those community leaders allow it.”

In writing to us about the Belmont Cragin vaccination event, a tipster felt this was very wrong – Saying her 64-year-old husband with underlying health issues can’t get a vaccine.

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To those who feel these clinics are unfair, Dr. Arwady said, “Getting a higher, and equitable amount of vaccine into our hardest hit areas in Chicago in turn helps protect everyone in Chicago, so it’s the right public health strategy as well.”

There are three more neighborhoods with 18-and-up vaccine sites. The Department of Public Health says they are in Gage Park, North Lawndale, and starting Wednesday, Little Village. The department would not tell Saavedra the specific locations, because these sites are for locals only.

They are advertising door to door or through community groups and do not want people from the outside coming in.

Meanwhile, the news conference Tuesday was held as representatives from the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS), Lawndale Christian Health Center, and Heartland Alliance administered COVID-19 vaccines to 170 Pacific Garden Mission residents and staff.

According to the city, more than 2,000 first doses of the COVID vaccine have been given to staff and residents across the city’s system of homeless shelters.

“Our vaccination strategy from day one has been to prioritize communities and settings that have been most impacted by COVID-19 and to distribute vaccine equitably,” reiterated Arwady. “We know that targeting the communities and congregate settings with the highest risk factors is the best way to protect those at greatest risk, and also reduce overall transmission in the city. It is our quickest path out of the pandemic.”

“While many cities are still developing plans, our city’s targeted, proactive campaign to vaccinate individuals experience homelessness began weeks earlier,” said Heartland Alliance Health’s Mary Tornabene. “Where other cities are just beginning outreach, we have been connecting trusted healthcare partners with dozens of shelters and vaccinating our most vulnerable neighbors at increasingly effective rates.”

“So far here at PGM (Pacific Garden Mission), we have vaccinated 180 PGM guests and staff,” said Alex Porte, MD, Family Physician and PGM Site Medical Director of the Lawndale Christian Health Center. “We are grateful that CDPH has prioritized people experiencing homelessness and Black and Brown people to receive the coronavirus vaccine, and we look forward to continuing the work with the city, PGM, and other partners to advance increased equity in health care and housing for persons experiencing homelessness.”

On Monday, the North Lawndale Christian Health Center was also opened as a vaccination site for the community. The city said more than 100 Black and Latinx residents came out on Monday for their first dose of the vaccine.

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North Lawndale Christian center COVID-19 Vaccination

(Credit: Danyele Davis/Illinois Lottery)

North Lawndale Christian center COVID-19 Vaccination

(Credit: Danyele Davis/Illinois Lottery)

The Lawndale Christian Health Center and Heartland Alliance Health have longstanding relationships with Chicago shelters, and account for most of the health care provided to those who are homeless.

Marie Saavedra