Illinois on Monday posted its smallest jump in daily COVID-19 deaths in more than two weeks, and Gov. JB Pritzker said ventilator usage by those with the coronavirus dropped throughout April in a decline he attributed to his ongoing stay-at-home order.
The pair of encouraging pieces of data came as the governor emerged from the weekend holding the legal upper hand after a federal judge forcefully knocked down a lawsuit from an evangelical church in northwestern Illinois that sought to derail his stay-at-home order.
The 46 new fatalities from the coronavirus that Pritzker announced Monday marked the lowest daily tally in COVID-19 deaths since April 19 and amounted to just one-third of the number observed on two separate days last week. The state’s overall COVID-19 death toll now stands at 2,662.
But even though he saw optimism in Monday’s comparatively modest increase in deaths, Pritzker cautioned against reading too much into it and instead said a true measure of downward movement in new fatalities must be measured over as long as a week.
“When I saw this number today, I was hopeful this was the beginning or continuation of a trend that I’d been praying for,” the governor told reporters at his daily COVID-19 briefing. “But I think one day is not a helpful number to look at.”
At the same time, the governor released data on the number of intensive care unit beds and ventilators in use by COVID-19 patients, and by both measures, April has shown encouraging declines that correspond with his stay-at-home order.
Statewide, 33 percent of ICU beds are assigned to COVID-19 patients, down from 40 percent two weeks ago. And with ventilators, 22 percent are now in use by those afflicted with COVID-19, a marked drop from one month ago when 29 percent of available ventilators were being used by those with the coronavirus.
“That’s a lot lower than we expected at this point, and it’s because of the amazing work people have done staying at home and following our executive orders,” the governor said.
The new data also undercut the arguments from protesters who last week demonstrated outside the James R. Thompson Center and the statehouse against Pritzker’s stay-at-home order -- protests that became global news as Nazi sympathizers waved anti-Semitic signs in opposition to the state’s Jewish governor.
The governor came out of the weekend victorious in another battle against his authority. This one involved a federal lawsuit filed by a northwestern Illinois evangelical church called The Beloved Church and its pastor, who alleged Pritzker’s stay-at-home order banning assemblies of more than 10 people violated their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religion.
Late Saturday, U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee rejected those arguments and the church’s demand for a temporary restraining order against Pritzker’s order.
“COVID-19 is a virulent and deadly disease that has killed thousands of Americans and may be poised to devastate the lives of thousands more,” Lee wrote. “And again, the sad reality is that places where people congregate, like churches, often act as vectors for the disease.
“Enjoining the order would not only risk the lives of the Beloved Church’s members, it also would increase the risk of infections among their families, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and surrounding communities,” the judge continued. “While plaintiffs’ interest in holding large, communal in-person worship services is undoubtedly important, it does not outweigh the government’s interest in protecting the residents of Illinois from a pandemic.”
Late Monday afternoon, lawyers representing the church filed a notice that they intend to appeal Lee’s ruling.
Asked about the judge’s favorable opinion, Pritzker said he learned that between 60 and 80 people defied Lee’s ruling and gathered in the church in Lena, Ill., which is roughly between Rockford and Galena about 130 miles west of Chicago.
That defiance, the governor said, “is an enormous mistake, and I am very hopeful we aren’t going to need to send teams in to do mass testing among the people who may be spreading the virus in their community.”
The governor went so far as to say that those who are “persistently defiant” of his stay-at-home order could subject themselves to arrest.
“I’m not suggesting that’s the best answer or the first answer, but it is something that’s an option for local law enforcement,” Pritzker said.
Meanwhile, in other COVID-19 developments Monday:
McCormick Place teardown: The state announced late Friday that it was beginning to deconstruct elements of the 3,000 beds installed at McCormick Place. In a matter of weeks, the convention center had been turned into an alternate care facility to take COVID-19 patients once hospitals had no more bed space available for them. Instead, a mere fraction of the beds have been used. Pritzker said just 29 or 30 patients have been treated at McCormick Place at any one time, and that it’s an indication that the stay-at-home order has worked. “The success of a stay-at-home order is that nothing happens. This is a function of: ‘Guess what? A lot of people didn’t get sick and a lot of people didn’t die,’” Pritzker said. “We spun it up because at the time, we didn’t know whether we’d be bending the curve properly and it turns out we have. And so thank goodness.”
Warning to Indiana-bound Illinoisans: Asked what he makes of Illinois residents crossing the state line to Indiana, which has relaxed some of its statewide orders, Pritzker warned that going out in the Hoosier state still carries risks. “I don’t control the state of Indiana and they don’t control Illinois, but I’d rather be from here than there,” Pritzker deadpanned.