Illinois reached a new milestone for COVID-19 Friday with only 9% of test results coming back positive for the coronavirus statewide, but new questions are emerging about the accuracy of tens of thousands of tests linked to a machine now facing heightened federal scrutiny.
State public health authorities said the percentage at which people tested positive for COVID-19 hit a new daily low during the past 24 hours, continuing a pattern that appears to have been gaining momentum during the past two weeks.
By comparison, in early April, about 24% of all tests being administered showed a positive result, Gov. JB Pritzker said during his Friday afternoon COVID-19 briefing.
“The good news is that our current statewide positivity rate is under 14% on average for the last 14 days, and that’s likely becoming a better indicator of the true infection rate among the general public,” Pritzker said.
Even in Illinois’ COVID-19 regional hot spot — Chicago and the collar counties — the rate of positive test results dipped to 19.4% Friday. Under the governor’s reopening plan, that so-called positivity rate has to stay at 20% or lower for any of the state’s four regions to see stay-at-home restrictions eased by month’s end.
Nationally, Illinois is near the top of the list when it comes to total tests administered. As of Friday, that total reached more than 538,000.
However, new questions about some of those results are emerging after the federal Food and Drug Administration issued a warning this week that a testing machine used by Illinois and manufactured by North Chicago-based Abbott Laboratories has been yielding inaccurate results.
In its own statement Thursday, Abbott stood by its product.
Pritzker said about 50,000 tests that Illinois has administered were on Abbott’s COVID-19 quick-test devices, which produce test results in as little as five minutes. The devices won emergency approval by the FDA in late March.
The governor said his administration is aware of the FDA’s latest warning about the device and is reexamining test results here, but he didn’t go so far as to say the equipment would be mothballed until Abbott develops a fix for the problem cited by the FDA.
“I think now, we’ve all been put on warning by the FDA,” he said.
In April, after Illinois gained access to some of Abbott’s devices, the governor dispatched them to several African-American neighborhoods that saw steep spikes in COVID-19 cases.
A spokeswoman for the governor said the devices were not used to test Pritzker himself or his senior aides after one member of the governor’s inner circle tested positive for COVID-19 last Saturday. The governor has tested negative for coronavirus but is self-isolating at home after having had contact with the virus-stricken staffer, who was asymptomatic.
Even with the seemingly good news that overall positivity rates continue to show downward movement, Illinoisans were still succumbing to COVID-19 at a pace of roughly one death every 11 minutes.
All told, during the last 24 hours, 130 new deaths were reported statewide from COVID-19, nudging the overall death toll past 4,000, all since March 17, when the first death was reported in the state.
So far, state data show people 70 and older face the greatest risk of mortality in Illinois, representing 68% of total COVID-19 deaths. Those between age 50 and 69 account for 26% of fatalities from the virus in the state.
And the disease continues to hit minorities disproportionately. So far in Illinois, 43% of those who died were white. By comparison, 32% of deaths were African American and 18% were Hispanic, percentages far greater than what they represent in the general population.
Finally, 56% of Illinois fatalities have been men, and 44% women.
In other COVID-19 developments Friday:
GOP congressmen ‘missing the point’: Illinois’ five Republican congressmen drafted a letter to Capitol Hill leadership asking them to make sure Illinois’ Democratic governor can’t block federal funding to local governments that defy the state’s stay-at-home executive order amid a foundering economy. Pritzker has seen pushback to his executive orders as other states reopen more of their economies, and he has said he is prepared to enforce the law by blocking federal aid to local communities that allow non-essential businesses to reopen. “In this case, I think they’re missing the point,” Pritzker said Friday, reemphasizing that the stay-at-home order is meant to protect residents from the coronavirus.
New testing advice for pregnant women: Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, stressed the importance of testing pregnant women admitted to a hospital for delivery. Ezike said those results would not only help doctors assess the use of personal protective equipment to be used during the delivery, but also would inform the doctors about treatment for the woman after giving birth. Ezike said early data show women are at further risk of complications after birth if they are COVID-19 positive. In addition, knowing whether new mothers have COVID-19 would allow hospitals to inform them how to best care for their infant, Ezike said.