Officials called for volunteers to step up and serve their communities on Sunday as nearly 300 new cases of COVID-19 and three more deaths were announced in Illinois.
With 296 more cases than Saturday, there are now at least 1,049 people who have tested positive for the coronavirus in Illinois, including an infant, said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
One week ago, there were 93 cases.
“Unfortunately, the number of cases will continue to increase, as will the number of deaths,” Ezike said. “But we ask that you listen to our guidance and take all preventative measures to avoid becoming sick and to avoid infecting others. We are all in this together. And doing our individual and collective parts, we will see our way through this.”
The three latest deaths include a Cook County man in his 80s, a Chicago man in his 80s and a McLean County woman in her 70s, according to Illinois health officials. Statewide, there have been nine deaths total related to the virus.
Nearly half of the reported cases are in Chicago, but the cases span 30 Illinois counties, now including Jo Daviess, Livingston, Rock Island and Stephenson.
As the city settled into its first full day of staying at home, Gov. J.B. Pritzker appeared on CNN, where he said the lack of federal effort has forced Illinois to pay more for crucial supplies while competing with other states. He also criticized the White House for not issuing a nationwide stay-at-home order.
Later in the day, at the two-week mark of his daily briefings, Pritzker addressed a tweet from President Donald Trump that said a group including the governor “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!” the president tweeted.
“When it comes to volunteerism and charity and stepping up in a crisis, Illinoisans of all political stripes are doing their part,” Pritzker said at the Sunday briefing. “I’m a pretty even-keeled guy. But even I’m finding it hard to contain my anger with Donald Trump’s response to this national crisis. I have doctors and nurses and first responders begging for masks, equipment and more tests.”
Staff are working day and night to hunt down supplies, Pritzker said
“We’re doing that because Donald Trump promised to deliver for all the states weeks ago and so far has done very little," Pritzker said. "So apparently, the only way to get the president of the United States to pay attention is to go on national television and make noise about it. Which I won’t stop doing until we get what we need.
“This is a time for serious people,” Pritzker added. "All I can say is get to work or get out of the way.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot echoed the sentiment in a Sunday tweet pleading with Trump to “step up and be a leader." Pritzker and others “have filled this country’s leadership gap," Lightfoot tweeted. "Lead or get out of the way.”
.@JBPritzker, Governor of Illinois, and a very small group of certain other Governors, together with Fake News @CNN & Concast (MSDNC), 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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2020
The state is working to increase testing capacity, Ezike said, by working with hospitals to implement testing in their facilities. At least 8,374 people have been tested in Illinois, according to officials.
“We want to strengthen the testing capacity of Illinois by helping hospitals and laboratories develop their own testing ability, and we expect to have these tests up and running within the health care system in the next few weeks,” Ezike said.
In west suburban Northlake, snow dusted dozens of cars lined up for a COVID-19 test on Sunday in the parking lot outside the Walmart, where a drive-thru site was set up for first responders and health care workers. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also set up a testing site in Joliet.
Only those with a first responder or health care ID will be tested, according to a statement by the Joliet Police Department, and those workers do not have to be showing symptoms. Northlake police Chief Norm Nissen said any worker from those fields from any town can receive the test.
Each site can test up to 150 people a day, however local police officials said the daily testing limit is probably closer to 70.
By late afternoon in Northlake, a mobile sign warned newly arriving cars that the testing site was closed. The testing station is expected to be open Monday, and volunteers will continue giving the free tests to first responders “until the supplies run out,” Nissen said.
Among the new cases confirmed Sunday was the first at Jones College Prep and two more within the Chicago Police Department.
Chicago Public Schools officials said there has been a confirmed coronavirus case at Jones College Prep, but an emailed statement did not say whether the person was a staff member or a student.
The Chicago Police Department learned Sunday that two more of its officers tested positive for the virus, bringing the department’s number of infected officers to three. The latest officers to test positive are a detective sergeant and another officer who work in different facilities, according to chief police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. Their diagnoses were not related to a third officer, a detective, who was reported last week to have tested positive.
In a department-wide memo on Sunday, interim police Superintendent Charlie Beck said one of those officers’ last day at work was Wednesday and the other’s was Friday. Both officers learned Sunday they tested positive.
“I have personally spoken to these members, and both are in good spirits,” Beck said. “Both of these individuals will remain in isolation until medically cleared.”
In south suburban Blue Island, police officers were pulled off the streets and out of the station early Sunday morning after the city learned one of their ranks had tested positive for the virus.
Mayor Domingo Vargas said he made the call to send officers home after consulting with the police chief, and state and county health officials. Vargas said Blue Island officers remained on duty until Cook County sheriff’s deputies were able to relieve them.
“My main thing has been and always will be the safety of my men and women, the employees and residents of Blue Island,” he said.
State Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, released a statement criticizing Vargas’ actions and his alleged failure to contact his office or City Council members before making his “rash decision” to suspend the police department’s activities.
But, Vargas said, “This is a time that we don’t have no time to play. Decisions have to be made, and I made the decision.”
Looking ahead, Pritzker urged those who are able to get involved in volunteer efforts, including those through the Serve Illinois commission. “Please do not use this as a free pass to violate the stay-at-home order," he added.
Jenne Myers, CEO of Chicago Cares, said volunteers are needed throughout the state to help vulnerable neighbors. Myers offered some suggestions: checking on friends and neighbors, getting groceries and supplies for those unable to leave their homes, volunteering at food banks or homeless service organizations.
“These extraordinary times are helping all of us expand our definition of what it means to serve, to connect and to support one another,” Myers said. “Let us use this time to build empathy.”
Pritzker thanked the businesses and organizations that have donated personal protective equipment on Sunday, as health care workers worry about safeguarding themselves and others. He said donations of supplies like essential N95 masks and surgical masks have come from productions like “Chicago Med” and “Chicago Fire,” as well as trade unions across the state.
Officials again encouraged healthy individuals to donate blood and warned of the effects of a blood shortage compounded with the challenges already ahead.
Pritzker reminded Illinoisans on Sunday to hold onto hope as creative solutions are found across the state, like distilleries pivoting to hand-sanitizer production or residents volunteering to grocery shop for elderly neighbors.
“Even in moments when you’re feeling anxiety about what’s happening, hope is all around us and can still be found in every corner of this state," Pritzker said. “It can be found in the creativity and the generosity and the empathy from our people.”
And in a moment of lightness, Pritzker offered an apology to the woman who angrily called his office this week about interrupting “The Bold and the Beautiful” -- “I want her to know that I, too, look forward to the days when we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming.”
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