Gov. JB Pritzker announced the deaths of three more Illinoisans from COVID-19 Thursday and identified more than 130 new cases of the illness, a 47% jump the governor attributed in part to increased testing statewide.
The latest victims, who bring the total number of coronavirus-related deaths in the state to four, were a Will County man in his 50s, a Cook County woman in her 80s and a Florida woman in her 70s from out of state who was visiting family in Sangamon County, the governor confirmed.
“We’ve all lost something today,” Pritzker said.
The 134 new COVID-19 cases announced Thursday represent yet another grim milestone, marking the largest single-day increase since the state began tracking COVID-19 cases in late January. The previous daily record of 128 cases was set Wednesday.
The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Illinois now stands at 422.
“Our reports of case count will not abate soon. For now, this is because we’re doing more testing in Illinois. As of yesterday, we were able to do more than a thousand tests statewide. And in just a few days, we’ll be increasing that to more than 2,000 tests per day,” Pritzker told reporters at his daily briefing on the state’s response to the pandemic.
In his wide-ranging briefing, Pritzker also outlined the likelihood he would extend a statewide K-12 school closure beyond the end of the month — as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot would later announce for the city — and said his administration is aggressively looking at ways to expand hospital capacity. That could include reopening some closed hospitals for an expected massive influx of sickened patients in the weeks ahead.
Other issues he addressed included:
School closures: Pritzker signaled he likely will extend the statewide closure of public and private K-12 schools beyond an end-of-month date he had established just last Friday. “I think obviously, we’ve set a deadline, a date by which we think students would go back, but I also think that parents should be contemplating the possibility that that might be extended,” he said. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the city’s public school system will remain closed through April 20.
Statewide ‘lockdown’: Pritzker indicated he is not yet ready to impose a shelter-in-place order as jurisdictions like San Francisco and west-suburban Oak Park have. “We’re looking at every aspect of those steps to understand how best to keep Illinoisans safe,” the governor said. Pritzker assured residents there is no need to empty store shelves through the hoarding of supplies. “Essential services will not close. Interstates, highways and bridges will stay open. Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, these sources of fundamental supplies will be maintained,” the governor said. “There is no need to run out and hoard food, gas or medicine. Buy what you need within reason. There is enough to go around as long as people do not hoard. We will never shut these services down.”
Hospital capacity: Pritzker said he has teams surveying sites that can be converted into makeshift care facilities to deal with the likely flood of seriously ill COVID-19 patients in the weeks ahead. To keep existing hospitals from being swamped, the governor said his administration is contemplating reopening closed hospitals around the state, diverting some sick patients to freestanding surgical care centers and building field hospitals on the fly. “We’re looking at all of the available other opportunities for us to increase hospital beds,” he said.
Small business relief: With bars and restaurants shuttered and most business grinding to a halt, the governor extended a few stopgap measures to help them stem off the financial bleeding. One step would permit roughly 20,000 businesses to get a two-month delay in sending sales taxes they collect to Springfield. Pritzker also announced a program that would enable small businesses to obtain up to $2 million in low-interest loans, pending federal approval.
Senior shopping: Pritzker also announced a deal struck with grocers throughout the state to offer a dedicated time for senior citizens to do their shopping. Those 65 and over are believed to be among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. The governor identified Whole Foods, Shop and Save and Hy-Vee among several grocers establishing seniors-only shopping hours across Illinois. “This dedicated period will also feature heightened social-distancing measures,” Pritzker said.