COVID-19 Has Killed 8 Illinois Healthcare Workers And Sickened 2,500

“None of this had to happen,” a nursing union official said of the deaths as new COVID-19 cases set a daily record.

Pritzker Official Update
AP Photo
Pritzker Official Update
AP Photo

COVID-19 Has Killed 8 Illinois Healthcare Workers And Sickened 2,500

“None of this had to happen,” a nursing union official said of the deaths as new COVID-19 cases set a daily record.

Driven by more testing, Illinois reported its highest daily total of new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, and state public-health officials revealed for the first time the pandemic has killed eight health-care workers statewide and sickened 2,500 others.

Gov. JB Pritzker and his administration have spent tens of millions of dollars to help quell the severe shortage of personal protection equipment in health-care facilities as the public-health crisis has expanded within Illinois’ borders.

But the true consequences of not having enough masks, gowns and other protective gear hadn’t been known until Wednesday, when state Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike divulged how many Illinois health-care workers have contracted coronavirus and died from it.

“That could be anyone that works in a healthcare establishment. So it could be a nurse, a nurse practitioner, a respiratory therapist. It could be the front desk staff at a clinic. It could be a long-term care facility worker,” Ezike said.

In announcing the data, Ezike noted the numbers are not a perfect accounting of how many healthcare sector workers have been diagnosed with COVID-19, considering that the state public health department accumulates the information from what hospitals report — it doesn’t collect the data itself.

A union representing thousands of Illinois nurses characterized the disclosure as tragic but not surprising considering the ferocity of the coronavirus and the shortages of protective equipment for front-line healthcare workers.

“We are not surprised by these numbers,” said Alice J. Johnson, executive director of the Illinois Nurses Association, which represents 3,600 unionized nurses statewide. “We have received countless calls from nurses at non-union hospitals that are desperate and do not know what to do because they are lacking in PPE or are forced to use PPE in unsafe ways at their job.

“None of this had to happen,” she continued. “There is no reason for nurses and other healthcare workers to be left without the equipment that they need. It is an incredible injustice, and nurses and healthcare workers deserved much better.”

The numbers come as the state announced another 2,049 new cases of COVID-19 today, including 98 deaths, pushing the overall death toll to 1,565. It’s the highest number of new cases announced in a 24-hour period to date.

“The most important thing that happened today that led to a higher positive test count is we tested more people,” Pritzker said when asked about the reason behind the surge in new cases. “I think the testing number for today was 9,300 and some. And that’s the largest number yet. So that’s why you see a larger positive testing result.”

Pritzker, who has identified 10,000 tests administered per day as the goal he would like to see Illinois reach, said he expects the number of confirmed cases to continue to climb as Illinois expands testing.

In other COVID-19 developments at the state level Wednesday:

  • Pritzker does not favor bankruptcy for states: Pritzker had one word in response to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s idea floated on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show to allow states to file for bankruptcy: “No.” The GOP senator from Kentucky also advocated for hitting “pause” on another relief package out of Congress, particularly to help state and local governments address the budget holes caused by closing their economies. “I think that Majority Leader McConnell is certainly important to the process of getting things done in Washington D.C., but he’s not the only person involved. And there are an awful lot of senators on both sides of the aisle that disagree with him,” Pritzker said. He also said multiple other governors have also said it’s “vitally important” that Congress help states address their budget holes.

  • Business groups sue Illinois over workers’ comp rule change: Two large business organizations filed suit today against the state of Illinois over a new policy that grants workers’ compensation to essential workers who show signs of sickness, regardless of whether they’re a confirmed COVID-19 case. An attorney for the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and Illinois Retail Merchants Association argued that the rule is an overreach by the state. Pritzker disputed that notion.

  • From hippie to ponytail: “I’ll end up wearing a ponytail at some point,” Pritzker said when asked by a reporter if he’s had his haircut since his executive order deemed barbershops and hair salons as non-essential businesses. Earlier this month, Pritzker said he’s going to turn into a hippie, when he was asked a similar question after it was revealed that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot had her haircut.

  • New drive-thru testing facilities: The state announced two new state-run drive-thru stations available for anyone with symptoms of COVID-19. No doctor’s note is needed to get a test at the sites located at 1650 Premium Outlet Blvd. in Aurora, and at 1601 Parkview Ave. in Rockford. The Rockford location opens Friday.

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