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New Illinois coronavirus cases top 1,000 for the first time; Pritzker warns increases likely to continue into April

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 3/30/2020 By John Keilman, Chicago Tribune
J.B. Pritzker standing in front of a flag: Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at his daily coronavirus briefing from the Thompson Center in Chicago, on March 28, 2020. At right is Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois Dept. of Public Health director. © Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at his daily coronavirus briefing from the Thompson Center in Chicago, on March 28, 2020. At right is Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois Dept. of Public Health director.

New COVID-19 cases reported in Illinois topped 1,000 for the first time, state officials said Sunday, warning that the upward curve is likely to continue for weeks.

“It is fair to say that most of the models I’ve seen … show that we’ll be peaking sometime in April,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at his daily coronavirus news conference. “We’re not yet close to that.”

The state has now recorded 4,596 positive COVID-19 tests and 65 deaths, 18 of which were announced Sunday. More than 90% of cases and deaths have come in the Chicago area, though that proportion is slowly shrinking as testing expands throughout the state.

Pritzker, who has frequently criticized the federal government for providing an inadequate number of test kits, said public and commercial labs in Illinois are now running 4,000 tests daily, a number that within 10 days should be up to 10,000.

“That marker is significant because it’s the number of tests per day that the scientists and experts tell us that we need to get a truly holistic understanding of the virus in each of our 102 counties,” he said. “ … Ultimately my goal is to reach a large enough testing capacity where we’re able to test everyone who needs a test on a regular basis.”

He said state labs are already running two shifts and plan to add a third as soon as they can secure enough testing material. The labs are adding robotic equipment to improve their efficiency, he said, and he’s pushing for regulatory changes that would allow drive-thru testing centers to handle more patients.

Pritzker added that after news broke Friday that Lake County-based Abbott Laboratories is launching a 5-minute COVID-19 test, company officials “expressed their real dedication to taking care of their home state” when production ramps up.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said expanded testing should help to control outbreaks at susceptible institutions like long-term care facilities and prisons, where many staffers come and go each day.

“There are many who are ill with only mild, minimal symptoms, who still may be unknowingly transmitting this virus to some of our most vulnerable populations,” she said.

Pritzker said his top concern is making sure that Illinois has the capacity to treat those sickened by COVID-19, though he was hopeful the state’s relatively prompt stay-at-home order will mitigate the surge.

Even so, he said, medical capacity is still inadequate, which is why National Guardsmen are outfitting dozens of hospitals around the state with triage areas to separate suspected COVID-19 patients from others, and why officials are seeking to reopen shuttered medical centers and convert McCormick Place into a 3,000-bed field hospital.

Pritzker and Ezike also addressed the death of a Chicago infant from coronavirus-related causes. The 9-month-old child is believed to be the nation’s youngest victim of the virus.

The governor said despite the tragedy of the baby’s death, parents should keep in mind that it’s exceedingly unusual for children to die from COVID-19.

“It really is highly uncommon,” he said. “That isn’t to say every infant is safe, but it’s so uncommon that when I started to do the work and listen to the experts about it, I got at least some comfort in the idea that this is not something we should expect to hear a lot more of, because it’s just not happening very often at all.”

jkeilman@chicagotribune.com

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