Updated at 9:53 p.m.
The state of Illinois announced 18 new deaths in the COVID-19 pandemic on Sunday, bringing the number of victims here to 65.
That was the highest death count in one day since the coronavirus outbreak began, eclipsing the previous high of 13 set on Saturday. The first death in Illinois was announced 12 days ago.
The state also announced 1,105 new cases of coronavirus, by far the biggest daily increase in Illinois, bringing the total number of cases here to nearly 4,596.
And Gov. JB Pritzker made clear he did not expect improvement in the situation in the near future.
“No, we have not hit the peak here in Chicago or in the state of Illinois,” the governor said at his daily news conference on efforts to combat the coronavirus’ spread. “We’re going to continue to see an increase, unfortunately, of cases and, likely, deaths.”
Sixteen of the state’s 65 coronavirus victims were from Chicago, with eight more in suburban Cook County and a total of 20 deaths in the five collar counties that border Cook County, according to state public health data.
Of the 18 deaths reported on Sunday, all but two were at least 60 years old, state officials said. The youngest of them was a man in his 40s from Kane County.
Investigation of infant’s death continues
On Saturday, the state announced the death of an infant in Cook County who had tested positive for COVID-19. At that time, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, said it was the first death of an infant associated with COVID-19 in the world.
And on Sunday, a spokeswoman for Ezike told WBEZ that the Centers for Disease Control had confirmed that the infant was the youngest victim of the pandemic.
But Ezike said Sunday she could not provide greater detail of the case yet.
“The investigation of the infant that we reported about yesterday is still very fresh,” she said. “We are trying to gather all of the data before speaking. I know that there’s a lot of concern hearing about the death of an infant who also had COVID, so we really want to get a complete report.”
Ezike said common symptoms of children with coronavirus have been mild — fever, sore throat, runny nose — with few hospitalizations or severe pulmonary problems seen in the most serious COVID-19 cases.
“We have not seen infants to have serious sickness or illness and definitely not death in the past,” she said, citing reports from around the world, including China, where the coronavirus first surfaced.
The child who died after testing positive was 9 months old, said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
”We are doing an extremely thorough investigation into this really sad situation,” she said, adding that it was “very, very unusual to see a death in a young child” with COVID-19.
Arwady said none of the Chicagoans hospitalized with the coronavirus is under 18.
The New England Journal of Medicine has reported that one fatal case in the pandemic, in China, involved a 10-month-old baby.
Pritzker said the infant’s death had prompted him to take a close look at the data on the victims of the disease, who have tended to be older people in Chicago, in other parts of the U.S. and in other countries.
The governor also sought to calm the public about any threat to small children from the pandemic.
“This was something of deep concern to me because I had not heard of an infant dying of COVID-19 before,” Pritzker said. “This was the first one I’m aware of in the United States.”
He said he wanted to remind parents that “it really is highly uncommon.”
“That isn’t to say that every infant is safe,” Pritzker said. “But it just is so uncommon that when I started to do the work and listen to the experts about it, I got at least some comfort in the idea that this is not something we should expect to hear a lot more of.”
Illinois testing ramps up, but still short of goal
Also Sunday, Pritzker said the state is now running 4,000 coronavirus tests a day — double what was being done five days ago at three state labs, four commercial labs and 15 hospitals. He said the state should reach its goal of 10,000 tests per day within 10 days.
“That marker, 10,000, is significant because it’s the number of tests per day that the scientists and experts tell us that we need to get a truly holistic understanding of the virus in each of our 102 counties,” Pritzker said.
“I want to be frank with you: Where we are now is not where I want to be,” he added. “Every day we are not hitting 10,000 tests or more is another day that we’re not able to get answers that help us get past this current crisis.”
He blamed the testing shortfall squarely on the federal government.
“The loss of essentially the entire month of February in the effort to scale up robust testing and the exponential spread that followed was a profound failing of the federal government,” Pritzker said.
He noted the U.S. is far behind other countries in testing on a per capita basis.
“The White House has promised millions of tests for weeks now, and they’re just not here,” Pritzker said. “I’m not going to wait on promises from the federal government that may never be fulfilled. We need this testing capacity now, so we’re building it ourselves in Illinois.”
All three state labs are running second shifts and will run a third shift when officials can get enough of the necessary materials, he said.
Pritzker said the state also is “acquiring additional laboratory robotics” this week to increase testing capacity.
“This technology is crucial,” the governor said.
It was far from the first time the Democratic governor had blasted the pandemic response from the administration of Republican President Donald Trump.
The tensions between Pritzker and Trump boiled over a week ago, after the governor said Illinois needs “millions” of masks and other critical supplies and blamed the federal government for the shortages.
Trump shot back on Twitter, saying Pritzker and other governors “shouldn’t be blaming the Federal Government for their own shortcomings. We are there to back you up should you fail, and always will be!”
Pritzker then said Trump “wasted precious months when you could’ve taken action to protect Americans & Illinoisans.You should be leading a national response instead of throwing tantrums from the back seat.”
Dan Mihalopoulos is a reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team.