Before a top aide updated the mounting death toll in the COVID-19 pandemic on Saturday, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker briefly sounded more like the state’s psychologist in chief.
Pritzker said nobody should bottle up their emotions about the uniquely difficult time that we’re living through now.
“I want to say to all of you – feel all of it,” the governor said at his daily news conference about the coronavirus outbreak. “We are living in a deeply unprecedented moment, and holding the emotional ramifications of that inside will only be harder on you. It’s OK to feel, and please know you don’t have to feel it all alone. I want you to know that we’re here to help.”
Toward that end, Pritzker announced the creation of a new state “source of support,” dubbed Call4Calm, for people who want to get help with mental-health issues arising from the pandemic.
Residents can text TALK to 552-020 and the state will put them in touch with a counselor, he said. For that sort of help in Spanish, people can text HABLAR to the same number.
“This service is free to use, and it’s available to you no matter your personal circumstances, and you will remain completely anonymous,” Pritzker said.
Cases surpass 19,000
The announcement came as state officials said another 81 people had died of COVID-19 in the past day, bringing the casualty list in Illinois to 677. Officials also reported 1,293 new cases of the virus, bringing the state’s total to 19,180.
Pritzker said those figures for the past few days show the “rate of ascent has significantly diminished,” but the pandemic is far from over. He also said there has been “a lower rise in hospitalizations than was originally anticipated.”
“That’s a really good sign,” the governor said. “What we’re seeing is a flattening of that curve.”
But he quickly added, “It’s not flat exactly. But it’s not going up the same way it was before … So we’re pleased by that, but by no means do we think that that is determinative of what tomorrow will bring or the next week will bring.”
No change to state-at-home order
President Donald Trump on Friday said he had a “big decision” to make about whether to loosen the social-distancing guidelines that have been implemented to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
It is Pritzker and other governors, though, who issued stay-at-home orders in recent weeks. And Pritzker made clear again Saturday that he’s strongly inclined to err on the side of caution when it comes to when his order – which went into effect three weeks ago – would no longer be deemed necessary.
“It’s very important to recognize that if you just literally flung the door open and said, ‘OK, everybody head outside, everything is fine now,’ we would head … once more to a higher peak of people who are contracting COVID-19,” the governor said. “So it’s very important for us to maintain, for the moment, the stay-at-home order, to make sure that people are following it.”
Pritzker said “nearly every hospital” has enough ventilators or can get them readily, but the state continues to acquire more ventilators because, he said, “I’d rather have too many than too few.”
The governor and the state’s top health official, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, said the only Easter services this year should be online. “If there are churches that were planning to convene tomorrow, please cancel now,” Ezike said. “We do have evidence of people who got sick through attending church and other similar gatherings.”
Pritzker also shared a message with the children of Illinois: “The Easter Bunny is officially an essential worker and will, in fact, be working tomorrow. So in case you were worried, the Easter Bunny will be there.”
Dan Mihalopoulos is a reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team.
Correction: This story has been revised to give the correct number for Call4Calm.