As COVID-19 Cases Spike, Illinois Health Chief Sees ‘More and More Difficult’ Weeks Ahead

Illinois’ total number of cases has doubled since Saturday, and the new deaths announced Wednesday mark a 42% jump in fatalities in one day.

COVID-19 Official Updates Pritzker
AP Photo
COVID-19 Official Updates Pritzker
AP Photo

As COVID-19 Cases Spike, Illinois Health Chief Sees ‘More and More Difficult’ Weeks Ahead

Illinois’ total number of cases has doubled since Saturday, and the new deaths announced Wednesday mark a 42% jump in fatalities in one day.

With 42 deaths, Illinois experienced its highest daily number of COVID-19 fatalities Wednesday, pushing the statewide death toll to 141 and claiming the first victim in their 20s and the first centenarian.

State public health authorities announced 986 new, confirmed COVID-19 cases — bringing the total caseload to nearly 7,000 — and shed new light on a troubling outbreak of the virus at the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet that so far has killed one inmate.

“The coming weeks are going to become more and more difficult as the number of cases and deaths rise,” said Illinois Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike at a briefing led by Gov. JB Pritzker.

The total number of cases in Illinois has doubled since Saturday, and the new deaths marked a 42% jump in fatalities from Tuesday.

Ezike disclosed that the state has tested 127 individuals at a maximum-security prison which houses more than 2,800 inmates. A batch of 80 samples returned 36 positive cases, and results are still pending for 47 others. The conditions for 19 individuals from the prison are serious enough to warrant hospitalization, she said.

So far, Pritzker’s administration has not shared modeling data to show when exactly Illinois should expect to hit its peak caseload and number of fatalities.

However, one public, state-by-state model created by the University of Washington’s Institute For Health Metrics and Evaluation has Illinois hitting the apex of the pandemic on April 17 and projects the state could see 2,789 deaths by Aug. 4.

Ezike said Illinois’ number of cases and death rate are tracking with other countries’ — with 20% of positive cases requiring hospitalization and a mortality rate of 1% to 3%.

“I think our numbers are going to unfortunately bear that out, and we will see growth in the number of deaths, most unfortunately, until we see that peak,” she said.

The latest Illinois data shows that 81% of the fatalities involve people age 60 or older, and there’s a much higher death rate among men. Overall, men accounted for 60% of deaths, with women at 38%. Demographics for five other Illinois victims were not provided by the state. Beyond the rising death totals, there were other developments at the governor’s COVID-19 briefing Wednesday.

  • National Guard has been called in to help at Stateville prison: An outbreak of the coronavirus at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill near Joliet has prompted the Illinois National Guard to set up tents at the facility to help monitor sick inmates. So far, 36 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 at the facility, out of 127 being tested, according to public health officials. It had been previously announced that an inmate died of the virus. Brigadier General Richard Neely said the Guard could be placing tents in the gymnasium at the prison to isolate those who test positive from the general population. “We’ll be able to monitor them more closely, watching their temperatures real closely and if they need additional help,” he said.

  • Call for more healthcare staff: Gov. Pritzker again called for inactive medical professionals to return to the healthcare field to help manage the pandemic in Illinois. To create space for the expected influx of hospitalizations that are coming, McCormick Place will become a space to take care of up to 3,000 patients. Pritzker said the state has contracted with some private companies to help staff McCormick Place, but they still need more people.

  • How will state lawmakers ever vote to pass legislation? Pritzker said that legislative leaders have been meeting about how to best get the 177 members of the General Assembly together to pass laws while complying with social distance orders. “We have things we need to get done,” Pritzker said, without explaining how the debates and votes could take place. “Some governors might think this is a dream that you can’t get your legislature together,” Pritzker joked. He also said he couldn’t list all the ways his state budget proposal that was introduced in February will have to change in response to the pandemic.

  • Trump is engaging in “leadership malpractice:” Pritzker also called on President Trump to open a special period of enrollment in the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare, so those who need health insurance could sign up for it. “This is leadership malpractice,” Pritzker said of Trump’s decision not to create a special enrollment. “Now more than ever we need as many people as possible to have access to healthcare, to seek out testing if we’re ever going to be able to fight COVID-19 and eliminate it as a major risk to our people.” Pritzker said those who have been laid off due to the pandemic meet the threshold to still sign up for insurance, and he criticized the Trump administration’s pursuit of a legal case to end the Affordable Care Act as “a special insult to the people of this nation at this moment. To seek to kill the ACA at a time like this — not to mention ever — undermines everything that we’re trying to do to keep people safe.” The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to take the case up later this year.

Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold cover state government and politics for WBEZ. Follow them on Twitter @davemckinney and @tonyjarnold.