By Jerry Nowicki
Capitol News Illinois
K-12 schools will remain closed and a stay-at-home order for Illinoisans will remain in place through April 30, as Gov. JB Pritzker announced during his daily COVID-19 briefing Tuesday that he plans on extending those orders on Wednesday.
Pritzker’s office said businesses permitted to operate in his previous stay-at-home executive order issued March 20 – such as grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies and other businesses providing services deemed essential in the order – may remain open.
“If we can end these orders earlier, I’ll be the first one to tell you when we can start to make strides toward normalcy again. But that time is not today. And it’s not April 7,” Pritzker said.
The announcement came as the number of deaths in the state related to novel coronavirus disease grew to 99, with 26 more reported in eight counties Tuesday. The number of positive cases grew by 937, to 5,994, with 35,225 people tested in the state. Ford and Ogle counties, both located just outside the Chicago metropolitan area, are now reporting cases, meaning confirmations have occurred in 54 of the state’s 102 counties.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said the number of confirmed cases, which have grown by hundreds daily since the state upped its testing output, tell only part of the story. She also said increased deaths and confirmed cases are expected to continue to increase, although the true number of cases in the community is unknown due to lack of available testing nationwide.
“But I do want to put these numbers in perspective and remind you that the majority of those that get infected do not suffer severe illness, do not require hospitalization,” she said, adding that up to 80 percent of those infected will not need critical care. “What we do need to pay attention to with these numbers is what they mean for our health care capacity.”
Pritzker said just 41 percent of adult intensive care beds were available as of Monday – that’s 2 percent less than a week ago – while 68 percent of ventilators were available, a 4 percent weekly drop.
About 35 percent of total intensive care beds and 24 percent of total ventilators are being used by COVID-19 patients, he added. He said the state is working every day to increase medical capacity in those areas.
Pritzker said when the stay-at-home order is lifted will depend on when the disease “peaks,” meaning the number of added cases each day hits a maximum and then starts to decline.
“What we’re seeing in places like New York is that the peak may last for several days or more,” he said.
Ezike said extending the stay-at-home order will help “flatten the curve,” or decrease the number of cases when the disease does peak, in turn limiting strain on the medical system.
She said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently shared new guidance that “we should be concerned about people transmitting the virus even 24 or 48 hours before symptoms.”
“So that’s even further evidence that we need to stay home. You can’t eyeball someone and think you know if they’re sick or not,” she said. “Let’s continue to do what we’ve been telling ourselves to do – washing our hands, staying home, covering our cough, cleaning frequently touched surfaces. Let’s do it all for ourselves, for our family and for our community.”
The extension of the stay-at-home order Wednesday will be accompanied by a 30-day extension of the disaster proclamation that gives Pritzker the authority to make such an order. The decision was based on what Pritzker said were “top medical experts, scientists, public health researchers, epidemiologists, mathematicians and modelers from the greatest institutions in the world.”
“But from all the modeling that we’ve seen, our greatest risk of hitting capacity isn’t right now, but weeks from now. The virus’ is spread is growing. So are its risks. We must not let up now,” he said.
Still, he said, “there’s no perfect model that you can look at” when trying to figure when the disease will peak, so decisions will have to be made when more information become available.
The 26 new deaths related to the virus represent the largest single day spike in that category. They include 17 Cook County residents between age 50 and 90; two DuPage County females in their 70s; a Kane County male in his 80s; a Lake County female in her 60s; a McLean County male in his 70s; a Morgan County male in his 80s; a St. Clair county female in her 30s; and a Will County male and female in their 80s.
Later at the briefing, Pritzker addressed questions about voting in the November general election.
“I do think that we’re going to have to look at, for the general election, the idea that we may have to move to significant amount or maybe all mail-in ballots or at least giving people the opportunity to do that,” he said.
But, he said, that’s a decision that would have to be made by the General Assembly, and it is uncertain when the body will meet to discuss such legislation as an operating budget and other must-pass measures.
“We have to find a way to get the Legislature together. That’s going to be a decision that gets made by the legislative leaders, along with our public health professionals, to determine how you get 177 General Assembly members in the similar area and vote on things,” he said.
Pritzker also addressed an outbreak of COVID-19 at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, noting the Illinois Department of Corrections is “reviewing the case files of as many low-risk offenders as possible for early release during this crisis, with nearly 300 more released,” as of 1 p.m. Tuesday.
There are 32 positive cases of COVID-19 at Stateville with more tests pending, he said.
“We’re using every mechanism available to us to prevent and contain the virus is spread in our department of corrections facilities, including standing up temporary facilities for an on-site medical mission with our National Guard,” he said.
He said any inmate falling ill enough to need one would receive a hospital bed and ventilator, and he noted hospitals refusing care to inmates “will be called out by name. And those that refuse to operate in accordance to their oath can and will be compelled to do so by law.”
For health questions about COVID-19, call the hotline at 1-800-889-3931 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The state has also called on licensed health care workers from any field to sign up for the fight against COVID-19 by visiting https://illinoishelps.net/. Those looking to donate personal protective equipment can email PPE.email@example.com.