Pritzker, Chicago health officials say people should wear face masks; coronavirus cases hit 10,357 statewide

Pritzker, Chicago health officials say people should wear face masks; coronavirus cases hit 10,357 statewide

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Illinois now has recorded over 10,000 cases that have tested positive for coronavirus, a milestone in the pandemic that Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Saturday while estimating the spread of the disease will peak later this month.

The governor and Chicago’s health commissioner, Dr. Allison Arwady, also called for people heading out of their homes to wear face masks as officials focus on slowing the virus.

“If you’ve been to the grocery store lately at any time other than three in the morning, you’re running into a fair number of people,” Pritzker said at his daily briefing on the outbreak. “There’s no need to take any risks. And by wearing a mask when you go to the grocery store, for example, you’re really protecting all the other people that are there, as much as you’re protecting yourself. In fact, more so.”

During her daily online Q-and-A session, Arwady said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that people cover their faces while out in public is “just one additional piece” to fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“With or without a mask, I do not want you out,” Arwady said.

Arwady reminded residents that the CDC has asked people to use “cloth face coverings,” such as a scarf.

With more than 1,400 new confirmations across the state, Illinois has now surpassed 10,000 known cases of COVID-19, the state’s public health director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Saturday. Illinois reported 1,453 new cases and 33 deaths on Saturday, Ezike said Saturday.

The new additions bring the total number of known coronavirus cases to 10,357 in 68 of Illinois’ 102 counties, Ezike said. There now have been 243 deaths attributed to the coronavirus, Ezike said.

There were 23 deaths in Cook County, three in Kane, two each in DuPage and Will, and one each in Jackson, Kankakee and Lake Counties, the state health department reported. The age of those who died ranged for a Cook County man in his 20s to a DuPage County woman who was more than 100 years old, the department said.

“The number is sobering and reminds us that it’s critical that we all do our part,” Ezike said. “The more cases means the more hospitalizations. The more hospitalizations means more deaths.”

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Responding to a question about the COVID-19 deaths of two Walmart workers in Evergreen Park, Pritzker said he is encouraging “the essential workforce and the essential businesses that are open to all take care of themselves.”

“The businesses themselves, they know that their workers are vital,” he said. “Many of the businesses in fact have increased pay for people coming to work because they know how vital these folks are and want to give them an additional incentive.”

Pritzker said he didn’t want to try to put too fine a point on when the spread of the virus in Illinois might hit its peak, “because they’re all put together by experts at modeling and statistics, and so they can be a little off.”

“But certainly I would say that most of the models I have seen, and there are a number out there, say that we will peak somewhere between the middle and the end of April,” he said.

The governor cautioned against getting too invested in hitting the peak, saying it’s important mostly to help plan how to deal with the health care needs of those who are sick.

“And as we move toward it, you’ve seen the numbers that we report every day. You know, on one day you feel a little hopeful. On another day, it feels like we’re going backward,” he said. “And so it’s very hard to tell, you know, what’s actually happening unless you look at it over a time series.

“And unfortunately over a time series, as you see we’re climbing the number of people who have it, the number of people who are passing away. And so I don’t want to predict on a certain day that we’re going to hit a peak, but I will say that it’s very important for us to track this. And the reason it’s important to track it is, obviously it helps us determine what to do with patients who are in certain conditions," he said.

Pritzker noted that tracking the numbers helps in deciding when to transfer patients to beds at McCormick Place and when medical providers may need to begin creating overflow intensive care beds, for example.

Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday toured McCormick Place, where the first 500 of an eventual 3,000 beds have been set up at the sprawling lakefront convention center in anticipation of a possible crush of COVID-19 cases that could overwhelm Chicago-area hospitals.

The McCormick Place alternate care facility is planned to hold patients who mostly have mild symptoms and don’t require intensive care.

The governor said the total number of such off-site beds should exceed 4,000 statewide in the next two weeks, with around a thousand in Cook County and about 250 in various Downstate locations, in addition to those at McCormick Place.

The Illinois National Guard has identified space for “thousands of potential beds” for coronavirus patients in field hospitals throughout the state, according to a spokesman and a member of the team tasked with assessing mostly vacant hospitals for alternate locations.

“Not all of those potential sites are actually feasible in other ways,” Lt. Col. Bradford Leighton said, adding renovations, fiscal and legal questions can limit the actual number of beds ultimately readied. “It’s not like you go into the space, turn the lights on and you have the beds.”

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Also Saturday, Pritzker noted the problems that are created locally when other states -- including neighboring Iowa -- don’t have orders in place barring residents from leaving their homes for nonessential functions.

“I’m frustrated for the people in those states. I mean, I’m frustrated for us too,” he said. “If you look at our border states who just went to stay at home, or haven’t even gone to stay at home yet, it’s obvious this has an effect on Illinois.”

As he has for days, though, the governor reserved his strongest words for the federal government, saying it has “abdicated its role in leadership in addressing this virus.”

“Let me be clear, while we can talk about those individual states, this should have been the job of the federal government to give guidance to set orders for the country,” he said. “We know how this virus travels.”

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