Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker warned Friday that the state could face a second peak in the number of COVID-19 cases later in the year.
“It’s not just about the peak that we’re potentially going through over the next several weeks,” the governor said. “There’s also the threat of a peak in the fall.”
Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order on March 20 to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and the order has been extended through April 30.
But the governor said he fears that, even if the number of cases declines soon, the virus could make a big comeback if the state eases its preventative efforts too soon.
“Doctors will tell you that if you look back at the Spanish flu, at other pandemics, and even if you look in other countries that have opened up after they’ve peaked, that you see a resurgence of cases because we don’t have a vaccine yet. And there isn’t a treatment either yet,” Pritzker said.
Federal projections obtained by The New York Times on Friday indicate Illinois and other states that implemented stay-at-home orders at around the same time could suffer a second spike in COVID-19 cases in mid-to-late summer.
Pritzker said he has not yet decided whether students will return to classes during this school year, but he expressed fears about what could happen if the state eases the social-distancing order too soon.
“If you really begin to open things up, you’re going to have a second wave,” he said. “We need to make sure that we’re fully prepared. We don’t want to have a second wave, and God forbid we do because other places in the country open up or we make adjustments and they’re not proper. … We have to be able to address that.”
Pritzker and other Democratic governors, including California’s Gavin Newsom and Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, have criticized their relatively few counterparts who took far longer than them to issue stay-at-home orders or have refused to do so entirely.
And on Friday, at almost the same time Pritzker was speaking to reporters in Illinois, President Donald Trump said social distancing had saved many lives but he was looking forward to it ending.
“We’ve got to get back to work, we’ve got to get our country open,” Trump said. “I have a big decision coming up, and I only hope to God that it’s the right decision.”
The stay-at-home orders prompted by the pandemic have caused widespread unemployment.
Pritzker’s comments about a second wave of cases came as state officials said another 68 people in Illinois had died in the last day from COVID-19, bringing the total number of deaths across the state to 596.
The Pritzker administration’s top health official, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, said the coronavirus mortality rate among African Americans is far higher than for other people in the state.
WBEZ first reported Sunday on the disproportionately high number of black deaths in the pandemic in Chicago and other parts of Illinois. A similar trend has been seen in COVID-19 deaths in other areas of the country.
That issue was the focus of much of Pritzker’s daily update on the outbreak Friday, with the governor decrying what he called “a uniquely American problem” reflected in the data on coronavirus deaths.
Ezike said the state’s public health department has created a “COVID-19 Equity Team” to recommend action.
“We must address the dramatic disparity we’re seeing,” she said. “We won’t hide from the hard truths.”
Officials said the state plans to open a testing center in the predominantly black south suburbs next week. It’s also partnering with community health centers on Chicago’s South and West Sides.
“Testing must be increased among the disproportionately affected populations,” Ezike said.
- More rural cases: Pritzker said he was concerned by the rising danger in parts of the state that had not had as many cases or deaths in earlier stages of the outbreak. And he suggested some people in rural areas did not exercise the recommended caution until cases of the coronavirus cropped up closer to their homes. “I think there were people who thought, ‘Why do I need to stay home? Why should I follow these orders?’ ” the governor said. “I think now, people are beginning to see … it is very important to follow these orders.” He said the state will ramp up testing for COVID-19 in downstate Illinois. “We must increase testing everywhere,” Pritzker said. “That is going to be the key to us getting out of this crisis.”
- No Easter gatherings: Pritzker called on people to avoid gathering with family at Easter this year and said they should mark the holiday with others using video conferencing technology. “Stay home. Celebrate at home,” he said. “The teachings from the Bible will tell you it is our obligation to save a life if we have an opportunity to. Staying at home is saving a life.”
- Pritzker’s Passover: The governor said he had participated in two Passover seders this week “and they were both on Zoom.” Likening the online Passover gatherings to the old TV game show Hollywood Squares, he added: “It was almost fun.”
Dan Mihalopoulos is a reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics team. Follow him @dmihalopoulos.