The first confirmed case of COVID-19 appeared in Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s office Tuesday, but the governor reported that he had minimal contact with a sickened staffer and is not displaying any symptoms himself to warrant testing.
The health scare inside the governor’s 16th-floor Thompson Center office suite came on the same day that COVID-19 deaths statewide rocketed to a new daily record.
State public health authorities reported 73 more Illinoisans succumbed to the lethal virus, bringing Illinois’ overall COVID-19 death toll to 380. The daily death toll represented a 38% increase over the previous record high set last Friday, when 53 deaths were reported.
Pritzker did not identify the staffer who fell ill within his office but said the person began displaying symptoms March 26 and immediately went home. Test results received Tuesday confirmed the COVID-19 diagnosis.
“It should be a cautionary tale that even among those who are most attentive and taking the most precautions, it is still possible to get the virus if you leave home and interact with others,” the governor said during his daily briefing on the virus.
The governor entered the briefing, as he has for several days now, wearing a mask, but he said he has had no symptoms and only had distant interactions with the person who contracted COVID-19.
“I was not tested. I did not have regular close contact with this person,” the governor said. “This is somebody who worked in the office but not particularly close to my office and didn’t regularly enter my office — so very little direct contact with this person.”
State Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike, who has been at Pritzker’s side nearly every day since the two first began leading these daily briefings in early March, also said she had not been tested because she too is not displaying any symptoms.
Pritzker said the aide continues to isolate at home, and no other members of his staff have felt ill.
The sharp increase in COVID-19 fatalities reported in Illinois represented a 24% increase in the overall volume of deaths on just this one day alone, ending a three-day streak of stability in which deaths hovered in the low 30s.
In delivering the cheerless news, Pritzker showed empathy.
“There are so many tragedies here: the countless family members, loved ones, friends and neighbors, who grieve; the indefinite delay of funerals and celebrations of life; the fact that this will not be the last day we say goodbye to our fellow Illinoisans because of the terrible toll of COVID-19,” he said.
“It’s OK to let yourself feel all the pain there is to feel today. I ,too, am grieving, but I want you to know my grief is only fueling my efforts to fight this virus and win,” Pritzker said. “Let these numbers be a reminder this pandemic is deadly serious, so stay at home.”
In addition to the deaths, Illinois reported 1,287 more confirmed COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the overall caseload statewide to 12,262.
Hospitals around the state are beginning to reflect signs of that unrelenting build-up.
On Tuesday, Pritzker said COVID-19 patients occupied 43% of total intensive-care beds and were using 29% of available ventilators in the state. Exactly one week ago, COVID-19 patients were using 35% of total intensive-care beds and 24% of ventilators.
“We consider our hospitalization data a particularly significant indicator. If someone is sick enough to need hospital care, they’re likely going to seek that care whether or not they’ve been tested,” he said.
“These trends do offer us further insight into the overall reach of COVID-19 in our state as we adjust to the how and where of our response.”
Other developments on the state COVID-19 front include:
Congregating in groups could result in “a real consequence”: Pritzker said he thinks it is worth calling the police on your neighbor if they are having a party or a large gathering while his stay-at-home order is in effect. “If people are encouraging others to get together in groups of more than 10 or to not socially distance, I think at some point it is worthy of considering a real consequence,” Pritzker said, with the caveat that he has not encouraged local police to make arrests related to those flaunting his order.
Pritzker to Trump: I’m “unhappy … when lies are spoken”: Pritzker and President Trump stopped their bickering — at least for a day. Yesterday, Trump characterized Pritzker as being “happy” with the federal government’s response to the pandemic. Pritzker, who has frequently castigated the federal government’s handling of the crisis, thought Trump may be referring to a recent compliment he paid to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its work in helping turn McCormick Place into a backup field hospital if the state’s hospitals become overrun with patients. “I’m happy when they make promises and then deliver upon those promises. I am unhappy when they do not deliver on promises or when lies are spoken,” Pritzker said.
A large order of body bags: Pritzker did not want to respond to a Chicago Sun-Times story reporting that the state is seeking 12,000 body bags. “We want to make sure that we’re prepared. If we end up being over-prepared in that way, I would be glad that we were,” he said. He wouldn’t comment beyond that, but an administration source told WBEZ that two bags are required to be used for each body. The governor hasn’t shared death estimates from internal modeling the state is performing, though the University of Washington’s Institute For Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts Illinois could see more than 3,600 COVID-19 deaths by August — a tally 12 times greater than Tuesday’s death count.
California to the rescue: Pritzker, whose office has been on a global pursuit for life-sustaining ventilators, said Illinois got a helpful delivery from the state of California. “I want to express my gratitude, my genuine, sincere gratitude, to the people of California and to the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, who sent us 100 ventilators overnight for use by patients here in Illinois,” Pritzker said. “It is truly incredible to work with elected officials across the nation who are providing true leadership.” By instituting some of the earliest and strictest stay-at-home orders, California has not seen the surge in COVID-19 cases that places like New York have and was comparable to Illinois with its overall death count despite a larger population, reporting 343 fatalities as of Monday. “My pledge to the state of California and to every other state and territory is that when we can, once we are past our peak, Illinois will pay it forward. We will pay it forward in any way that we can, including passing along these ventilators to the next hot spot in the nation and any that we may be able to spare,” Pritzker said.
Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold cover Illinois state politics and government for WBEZ. Follow them on Twitter @davemckinney and @tonyjarnold.