Illinois’ COVID-19 Testing Sets A New Daily ‘Milestone’

Pritzker calls testing surge a positive sign. The state poison hotline sees cases after Trump suggests using disinfectant to treat COVID-19.

Pritzker Official Update
AP Photo
Pritzker Official Update
AP Photo

Illinois’ COVID-19 Testing Sets A New Daily ‘Milestone’

Pritzker calls testing surge a positive sign. The state poison hotline sees cases after Trump suggests using disinfectant to treat COVID-19.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker reported the single-largest daily volume of COVID-19 test results, which the governor hailed as a “very important milestone” in the state’s efforts to tame the pandemic.

But it was the physical toll from President Donald Trump’s universally-discredited remarks about the merits of possibly injecting household disinfectants that arguably represented the day’s most shocking COVID-19 development in Illinois.

Two Illinoisans exposed themselves to toxic household disinfectants because of President Trump’s advocacy for using the chemicals as a possible treatment for the novel coronavirus, a state-funded poison-control hotline confirmed Friday.

A spokesman for the Illinois Poison Center told WBEZ that the two individuals did not ingest or die from their exposures to the household chemicals, but Trump’s words apparently motivated them to ignore warning labels and put their health at risk.

“These were actual exposures, where individuals misused cleaning products due to what they heard the president say,” said Danny Chun, a spokesman for the emergency poison-control hotline that operates around the clock.

Meanwhile, in a more positive development, Pritzker said that for the first time, the state exceeded 16,000 tests for COVID-19 in a day, nearly double the number that had been tested in previous days.

State public health officials said the increase of testing contributed to the identification of a record-number new cases of the coronavirus, with 2,724 identified Friday. That brings the total number of COVID-19 cases in Illinois since early March to 39,658.

Another 108 people deaths were reported from the virus Friday, causing the statewide death toll to jump to 1,795 deaths.

Pritzker applauded the expansion of the state’s testing capabilities, which had hovered around 5,000 tests per day just a week ago, and around 9,000 a day for the past few days. But expansion of testing materials, along with cooperation from universities across the state and the development of new testing sites in recent weeks has significantly raised the state’s testing, he said.

“Surpassing 10,000 tests is a very important milestone, not only because it allows us to isolate more of those who are COVID positive so that they don’t spread the infection, but also because it moves us in the direction of expanding our surveillance for outbreaks,” the governor said. “More testing means we can potentially lower the infection rate so we’re going to continue to push that number up.”

Pritzker called enhanced testing a vital ingredient toward eventually easing the state’s stay-at-home order, which the governor announced he’s extending to the end of May.

“Our ability to test and get results quickly is key to our ability to map the presence of this virus and to gradually reduce our mitigation measures and get more people back to work,” he said.

Pritzker also urged caution regarding the use of privately-run antibody testing sites in the area, saying the tests have not yet proven to be infallible and that studies are underway country-wide to determine when and if they can be utilized.

On the people who ingested disinfectant, Chun declined to offer additional details about the cases or say where the individuals who sought help resided.

Trump made his remarks at a White House briefing Thursday evening after the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security said the government had found household cleansers like bleach and alcohol could kill COVID-19 on surfaces in as little as 30 seconds.

The president floated the idea of more broadly using disinfectants to quell the virus.

“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute — one minute — and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning?” he said. “Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

On Friday, the president lashed out at the media. He said his filmed remarks had been misinterpreted and that he merely had been speaking sarcastically.

Pritzker, who has clashed frequently with the president, ridiculed Trump when asked about the president’s comments at the governor’s own COVID-19 briefing at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago Friday afternoon.

“It’s dangerous. What the president suggested yesterday is dangerous, and he clearly wasn’t making any facial expressions or any discussion that would make it look like he was joking in any way,” Pritzker told reporters. “All I can say is I hope to God nobody listened to him yesterday.”

The fact that at least two Illinoisans did is part of a concerning trend in which residents appear to be using household disinfectants improperly as part of an apparent effort to protect themselves from COVID-19.

Last week, the Illinois Poison Center reported a 30% pandemic-related surge in hazardous exposures from household cleaning products over the same period from last year.

In other COVID-19 developments:

  • Grocery stores shoppers to wear masks: Pritzker’s extension of his stay-at-home order through the end of May requires residents where face coverings into grocery stores and other indoor public areas where social-distancing isn’t possible. The governor said Friday that grocery store operators are legally within their rights to turn away customers if they try to enter without a mask. “It’s perfectly acceptable to tell people you’re not allowed in if you’re not wearing a face mask. This person is being not just disrespectful to everybody in the grocery store but potentially infecting other people by not wearing a face covering.” The governor compared the situation to restaurants turning away barefooted patrons.

  • Unemployment phone backlog: The state Department of Employment Security’s phone lines remain hard to penetrate for laid-off workers seeking help filing for unemployment benefits. When asked about the state offering longer hours for people to call, Pritzker said federal training requirements are hindering the state’s efforts to add more people to staff phone lines. “People are working overtime,” he said. “But in terms of running a second or a third shift, again, you’d need more people, and the training really is a gating issue.”

  • No commitment on baseball: As Chicago’s Major League Baseball teams are about to enter the third month of their seasons, Pritzker did not offer encouragement to Chicago Cubs or White Sox fans that they would get to see baseball games this season. Asked Friday if there would be baseball in Chicago this summer, the governor said, “I hope so, but I don’t know.”

Dave McKinney covers Illinois state government and politics for WBEZ. Follow him @davemckinney.