The coronavirus claimed as many victims in Illinois in the last 24 hours as on any other day of the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials said Saturday.
The 125 new deaths matched the previous deadliest day in the state – a tragic record set only two days earlier. As of Saturday, the number of dead in Illinois reached 1,259, and there were 1,585 new cases of coronavirus disease, raising the state’s number to 29,160.
Despite expressing optimism earlier in the week, Gov. JB Pritizker said the new numbers suggest a darker outlook.
“We are not even at our peak yet,” Pritzker said at his daily news conference to provide updates on the state’s response to the pandemic.
The latest spike in the daily death count in Illinois came shortly after President Donald Trump provided guidelines for when states might reopen their struggling economies. The orders, which are intended to curb the spread of the disease, have caused widespread unemployment in Illinois and across the country.
But Pritzker noted that the guidelines from the White House call for loosening the restrictions only after the number of new cases has declined for 14 days in a row.
“I’m listening to the scientists and doctors,” the governor said. “I don’t feel any heat. I listen to the people who know and who have informed opinions about what we ought to do … I’m going to do what’s best for the people of the state.”
Protesters have rallied against stay-at-home orders in other states, including Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio, in recent days. A similar protest in Springfield this week reportedly drew five people.
Pritzker issued his stay-at-home order March 20 and extended it through April 30, but the governor said he has not yet made a decision about how much longer it would last.
He said his message to critics of the order is simple: “I want to remove the restrictions as much as anyone and I’m going to do it based on science.”
Pritzker also said Saturday that state officials would be releasing data on the number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 at nursing homes around Illinois. The Pritzker administration initially had declined to release that data.
Asked to explain the reasons for the delay and the state’s about-face on the matter, the governor said, “We were concerned in some areas you’re stigmatizing people who work at those nursing homes when you publish that that is a nursing home that has an outbreak. You can stigmatize the families of the people who have relatives in those nursing homes. We were concerned about that. But, look, we also are very much in favor of transparency.”
Using data from the Cook County medical examiner’s office, a WBEZ analysis found a quarter of the COVID-19 deaths in the county were at nursing homes.
Dan Mihalopoulos is a reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team.