Illinois Governor Expands Relief Programs As COVID-19 Deaths Rise

Pritzker expands the state food, homeless and child care programs as the COVID-19 death toll reaches 34.

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

Illinois Governor Expands Relief Programs As COVID-19 Deaths Rise

Pritzker expands the state food, homeless and child care programs as the COVID-19 death toll reaches 34.

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Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced Friday expanded food, childcare and homeless programs as the COVID-19 pandemic claimed yet more lives and is spreading increasing economic fallout across the state.

The governor also declined to say whether the state’s existing stay-at-home order that went into effect last Saturday will be extended beyond its scheduled April 7 expiration and heaped praise on President Trump’s late-afternoon order for General Motors to begin manufacturing ventilators.

That array of developments came as Illinois reported eight more COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 34. That amount represents a nearly six-fold increase in deaths in just the last week.

Overall, state public health officials reported 488 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 3,026.

Friday’s daily increase in cases was smaller than Thursday’s, marking the first time since Monday that the daily rate of increase was down from the day before. However, state officials say many COVID-19 cases in Illinois are not being documented.

At his daily Thompson Center briefing, Pritzker was asked whether the continuing escalation of cases in Illinois is because more people are now starting to get tested or because of the spread of the virus.

“Both,” Pritzker answered. “We’re increasing the tests but not enough. There’s a vast majority more of people out there who have COVID-19 than we are currently testing.”

So far, more than 21,000 have been tested for COVID-19 in Illinois.

He said many Illinois hospitals are assuming patients who show symptoms, such as fever, deep respiratory coughs and trouble breathing, have COVID-19, even if the patient hasn’t been tested.

“That is one of the challenges of the federal government taking so long to get on this subject of testing. We would know so much more now, we’d be able to treat so many more people early, and we would’ve put the social distancing orders in place earlier,” he said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health’s case count Friday shed some new light on the known racial and ethnic breakdowns of those getting sick from novel coronavirus. Whites represented 39% of the cases, blacks 28%, Latino or Hispanic 7% and Asian 4%.

For comparison, U.S. Census estimates from last year showed 61% of the state’s 12.7 million people were white, 15% black, 17% Hispanic or Latino and 6% Asian.

With tens of thousands of Illinoisans losing their jobs because of the pandemic, Pritzker on Friday announced an $80 million expansion of the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that will mean a near doubling of food assistance benefits to eligible recipients.

Pritzker also said the state would be boosting payments to child care providers assisting essential workers in the fight against COVID-19 with stipend increases of between $750 and $3,000. The increases will be available Monday.

And finally, the governor pledged an additional $8 million for homeless programs.

“It’s especially important right now that we are doing all that we can for all of our residents through this crisis,” the governor told reporters. “We want every eligible person to be able to access services as easily as possible.”

More details about the relief programs are available on the state’s COVID-19 website.

Pritzker began his formal statements Friday once again criticizing something President Trump had said the day before. Appearing on FOX News, Trump questioned whether states need as many ventilators as they requested.

“To say that these comments are counterproductive is an understatement and frankly, at worst, the comments are deadly,” Pritzker said, adding that Illinois needs every single ventilator that it has requested.

Later, upon hearing that Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to force General Motors to begin manufacturing ventilators, Pritzker threw his hands up to thank Trump.

“That’s only GM. That’s terrific, but we need more,” Pritzker said. “We need much more.”

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