SPRINGFIELD — U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood gave the COVID-19 mass-vaccination site at the Illinois State Fairgrounds high marks Friday during a visit to Springfield. LaHood, R-Peoria, who represents part of Sangamon County, toured the Orr Building for a half-hour at the fairgrounds site, where as many as 900 vaccinations are administered each day in partnership
SPRINGFIELD — U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood gave the COVID-19 mass-vaccination site at the Illinois State Fairgrounds high marks Friday during a visit to Springfield.
LaHood, R-Peoria, who represents part of Sangamon County, toured the Orr Building for a half-hour at the fairgrounds site, where as many as 900 vaccinations are administered each day in partnership with the Sangamon County Department of Public Health, Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois National Guard.
“I’m thoroughly impressed with the site here today,” he said. “The space is perfect, the location is good … and obviously the collaboration with the Guard is tremendous. And the fact that they’re here six days a week and have such an efficient and effective operation, I think, is a real success model.”
Gail O’Neill, director of the Sangamon department, said the public has had no complaints about the mass-vaccination site and the department’s drive-thru site on Springfield’s east side.
People in the state’s 1A, 1B and 1B-plus categories are being served, and appointments are available, though the state fair site could administer up to 1,500 vaccine doses per day if more supplies of vaccine were available.
LaHood said Congress and President Joe Biden, a Democrat, need to do what they can to increase production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccine.
“That’s the No. 1 thing that we have to do to get our economy back on track, to get our kids back in school, to get small businesses opened again — that should be the No. 1 focus,” he said.
When asked how he would rate Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s response to the pandemic and the distribution of vaccine, LaHood said the Democratic governor’s partnership with the National Guard and other aspects of the distribution have been successful.
However, LaHood said Pritzker should have taken a more regional approach to business shutdowns and other mitigations at the beginning of the pandemic a year ago. Downstate areas shouldn’t have faced the same rules imposed by Pritzker as the Chicago area — the epicenter of the state’s outbreak at the time, LaHood said.
“His shutdowns and his lockdowns in downstate Illinois I think have been really draconian,” LaHood said.
The congressman said he also didn’t agree with Pritzker’s shutdown of high school sports in the fall. And LaHood said the governor should be doing more to encourage schools to return to in-person instruction.
“Get the vaccine out … and let’s open things up,” LaHood said.
A spokeswoman for Pritzker didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on LaHood’s remarks.
LaHood said he didn’t vote for Biden’s almost $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package, which was signed into law this week after receiving no Republican votes, because Biden didn’t seek input from Republicans and because the legislation was too costly and filled with liberal initiatives.
LaHood said he supports economic stimulus checks of up to $1,400, which the new law contains, but joint filers with annual incomes as high as $160,000 shouldn’t be eligible for the checks.
“You need to have it targeted to people that actually need it and remembering that all this money goes on the federal credit card,” LaHood said.
He said he opposed the $400 billion set aside for local and state governments. Illinois state government is projected to receive at least $7.5 billion of the total.
Pritzker’s aides have said specific uses for the money haven’t been determined yet as state officials await federal rules on how the funds can or must be spent.
LaHood said the $400 billion represents “bailouts to blue states with no real strings attached.”
Asked whether Illinois, a Democratic-leaning state, could use $7.5 billion from the federal government, LaHood said: “I think there are small businesses that need it. I think there are frontline health care workers that need it. I think our schools need to be reopened. But I’m not in favor of a slush fund with no strings attached that would go to bail out our pension system or go to other things.”
LaHood said he would favor federal money to reimburse the state for “COVID-related revenue loss.” The funding should have been “targeted and precise, and that’s my biggest concern,” he said.
O’Neill said appointments remain available at the mass-vaccination site and at the drive-thru site at 2833 S. Grand Ave. E., Springfield.
She said she didn’t know when eligibility for vaccine appointments would expand.
O’Neill encouraged vaccine-seekers to call, rather than go online, to check on available appointments. For the state fair site, the hotline number is (217) 210-8801; for the drive-through site, the number is (217) 321-3606. People can be served in the appointment-only system regardless of whether they live in Sangamon County.
About 155,700 people, or more than 50% of Sangamon County residents 17 and older, have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the Sangamon health department.
Statewide, 1,763 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Friday, putting the total cases in Illinois at 1.2 million cases. Thirty-nine new deaths of people with COVID-19 were reported. There have been a total of 20,901 fatalities.
Among Sangamon County residents, there were 23 new COVID-19 cases, and six people with coronavirus disease remained hospitalized. No new deaths were reported; a total of 222 county residents with COVID-19 have died.
Among Menard County residents, there was one new positive case, and one person remains hospitalized. No new deaths were reported. A total of six county residents with COVID-19 have died, and 1,053 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19.