In some races, the advantage is to the young, swift and strong. In the race to conquer COVID-19, a spunky centenarian is just as valuable.
Mary Cantway, 106, of Homewood got her first dose of COVID-18 vaccine on March 29 to protect herself from the virus, but also to do her part in what health officials are calling a race between vaccination and virus variants.
Vaccination efforts have been ramping up since the first doses arrived in the Illinois in December, and because older people are more vulnerable to serious illness and death from the effects of the virus, the state prioritized getting them vaccinated early.
After a slow start, the percentage of the Illinois population that has been fully vaccinated, 18.69% as of April 5, is on par with the national rate of 18.8%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On March 31, the state announced that a key measure for beginning the Bridge Phase of the state's reopening plan had been reached, with 70% of residents 65 and older having received at least one vaccine dose.
But the day before, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced that progress administering vaccines to seniors was being countered by other measures, especially an increase in hospital admissions for people with COVID-19.
"As long as new hospital admissions continue to increase, the state will not advance to the Bridge Phase and on to Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois Plan," IDPH officials said.
Health officials cite the spread of coronavirus variants as one factor that could be fueling the recent rise in infections. One variant, B.1.1.7, was identified in Chicago in mid-January and is known to spread much faster than the original virus.
The reversal in numbers came right on the heels of optimistic statements by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on March 18, when he announced that vaccines would be available to anyone over age 16 by April 12 and that the state was close to qualifying for a Bridge Phase, a transition from the restrictions of Phase 4 to the full reopening of society in Phase 5 of the state's mitigation plan.
The numbers provided reason for optimism then. New cases per day had peaked Nov. 13 at 15,415. That same day, more than 5,000 people COVID-19 patients were in the hospital and nearly 1,000 were in intensive care units.
By mid-March, new cases per day were in the 1,500 range, and hospitalized patients were a little more than 1,100, with fewer than 250 in ICU.
By the end of the month, the numbers were climbing again. On April 1 there were more than 3,500 new cases and 1,411 people in the hospital with COVID-19.
In addition to the rapid spread of virus variants, health officials attribute the rise to pandemic fatigue and a belief among some that the arrival of vaccines means the pandemic is over, or nearly so.
Health officials have said the setback in the quest to reopen businesses and other social activity is one that people can help correct by adhering to the habits of the past year: mask up, socially distance and avoid crowds.
And get vaccinated.
If the difficulty south suburban residents often have booking vaccine appointments is any indication, people generally are doing their best to comply with that suggestion.
I guess we're all trying to be like Mary.