With COVID-19 vaccination rates waning and workplace outbreaks contributing to infections, Illinois' employers could play a key role in stamping out the pandemic, public health experts say.
Illinois Department of Public Health data showed Tuesday that 36% of virus outbreaks in the last 30 days were evenly spread among four locations: factory or manufacturing sites, restaurants, retail/sales and a generic workplace category.
"We need to figure out a way to get vaccines to where people work, live and congregate because not everybody has the flexibility to take time off, to find a clinic, and drive there," said Dr. Marina Del Rios Rivera, an emergency medicine professor at the University of Illinois' College of Medicine.
The solution is for more employers to hold workplace clinics with assistance from the state or county health departments, she said. "We've got to make it easy for people if we really want to eradicate this pandemic."
Currently, IDPH is reporting some of the lowest daily case rates since the pandemic began 15 months ago, but "I think we probably recognize that places with not enough physical distancing and inappropriate PPE provided always will be a source of outbreaks," Del Rios Rivera said, referring to personal protective equipment such as masks.
Sources include food-packing plants, factories and manufacturing sites where workers are in proximity and engaged in physical labor, she said. "Anytime you're exerting yourself there are more particles in the air that are shared."
Employers can take three key steps: Set up a vaccination clinic for workers and their families, permit employees to take time off to be vaccinated, and -- should anyone suffer side effects from vaccine doses -- allow workers to stay at home and recover.
The workplace approach "makes a lot of sense, especially in areas where we know have been responsible for outbreaks," Del Rios Rivera said.
Chicago passed an ordinance in April offering protection for workers who get the COVID-19 vaccine. The state "does not require employers in Illinois to allow employees to be vaccinated during working hours, but we strongly encourage it," IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said.
Employers who wish to hold a vaccination clinic can contact IDPH for assistance or their local health department. No cost is involved.
DuPage County is "partnering with municipalities, businesses, and community-based organizations to bring smaller COVID-19 vaccine clinics to individuals who have not yet been vaccinated," health department spokeswoman Stephanie Calvillo said.
Employers also can email the American Hospital Association at COVID19@aha.org to be connected with a local vaccine provider that can "work with you to host an onsite pop-up clinic, and usually make it happen in a matter of days," White House COVID-19 Coordinator Andy Slavitt said in a statement released Tuesday.
IDPH reported 365 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday with 11 more deaths from the respiratory disease. On Monday, 44,174 more COVID-19 shots were administered. The seven-day average is 42,852.
The federal government has delivered 13,919,385 doses of vaccine to Illinois since distribution began in mid-December, and 11,708,874 shots have been administered.
So far, 5,606,931 people -- 44% of Illinois' population -- have been fully vaccinated. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses several weeks apart.
The federal government has approved Pfizer's vaccines for individuals age 12 and older. There are 10,837,805 Illinoisans eligible for shots, according to the U.S. Census, and 51.7% of them are fully vaccinated.
Illinois hospitals were treating 791 COVID-19 patients Monday night.
The state's seven-day case positivity rate is 1.1%.
Total cases statewide stand at 1,385,854 and 22,974 Illinoisans have died since the pandemic began.
Labs processed 36,408 virus tests in the last 24 hours.