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Pritzker says feds sent wrong masks as Illinois reports 8 more coronavirus deaths

Instead of the N95 masks it asked for, Illinois received 300,000 surgical masks, the governor said. Also on Monday, Illinois reported 461 new cases; that brings the statewide tally to 5,057 cases in 52 counties.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker looks on as Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, speaks Monday afternoon at the Thompson Center during the daily update on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker looks on as Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, speaks Monday afternoon at the Thompson Center during the daily update on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday said the White House sent Illinois a shipment of hundreds of thousands of the wrong type of masks — as the state saw eight more deaths and the spread of the coronavirus into half of its counties.

It appears a détente between the Democratic governor and President Donald Trump is over. After weeks of criticizing Trump’s response to the outbreak on national television and daily in press briefings, Pritzker last week said he was thankful for a White House shipment of N95 masks, which came after Pritzker asked Trump personally for help.

Instead the state received surgical masks, Pritzker said.

“My team is sorting through the shipment of 300,000 N95 masks the White House personally told me would be sent to our state,” Pritzker said. “And while we do not have a final count on this yet, I can say with certainty that what they sent were not the N95 masks that were promised, but instead were surgical masks, which is not what we asked for,” Pritzker said of the shipment.

Pritzker’s office last week said the White House pledged to send 250,000 N95 masks and 300 ventilators. Illinois has received shipments of medical supplies from the federal government, but at a fraction of what has been requested.

“I can’t emphasize enough how much we need the federal government to step up and amplify the size of their PPE [personal protective equipment] deliveries to Illinois and frankly across the nation,” Pritzker said.

He also urged Trump to use his unique power as president to force private companies to make more protective gear for frontline medical workers.

Gov. J.B. Pritzer at Monday’s daily coronavirus briefing.
Gov. J.B. Pritzer at Monday’s daily coronavirus briefing.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Meanwhile, health officials on Monday said another eight people have died from the coronavirus, bringing the state’s death toll to 73 people — as COVID-19 has spread to 52 of the state’s 102 counties.

One of the deaths was an inmate in the Stateville Correctional Center, according to Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the head of the Illinois Dept. of Public Health.

Trump on Sunday extended federal social distancing guidelines to April 30, and states including Illinois are expected to lengthen their stay-at-home orders.

Illinois residents are under a stay-at-home executive order through April 7. An extension of the order — as well as a mandated extension of school closures — is expected this week. Pritzker said the decision is being evaluated daily.

The state on Monday reported 461 new cases, bringing the total number of positive cases to 5,057. The figure is a large drop from the 1,105 reported on Sunday, the largest single-day count the state has seen — but Pritzker’s office said that is due, in part, to some commercial laboratories not running tests on Sundays.

Asked if Illinois was behind in testing, Pritzker responded: “Every state is behind in testing, there are not enough tests. Any governor who’s being honest with you will tell you. This is an enormous problem.”

New tests by Abbott Labs offer results within minutes, but they can’t be produced fast enough to keep up with demand from all over the country, he said,

“The problem is that Abbott can only produce about 50,000 of these a day...we aren’t going to be able to hive off enough of those for Illinois for it to be significant,” he said.

In addition to the death of an inmate at Stateville, 12 other men who were incarcerated are now hospitalized, including several requiring ventilators, Ezike said. There are 77 more incarcerated individuals with symptoms who are isolated at the facility. Eleven staff are also being isolated.

Pritzker, standing alongside Mayor Lori Lightfoot, also said the first 500 beds should be in place this week at the McCormick Place convention center, which the state plans to use as a field hospital. The goal is to have the site have a 3,000 bed capacity to help treat COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms in order to alleviate the capacity of the state’s hospitals. Pritzker said the state is also working to open two other facilities to help with COVID-19 response: the former Advocate Sherman Hospital campus in Elgin and the Metro South Health Center in Blue Island.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers emergency operations vehicle sits Monday morning outside McCormick Place’s South Building, which is among the sections of the convention center that will be converted to hold coronavirus patients exhibiting mild symptoms.
A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers emergency operations vehicle sits Monday morning outside McCormick Place’s South Building, which is among the sections of the convention center that will be converted to hold coronavirus patients exhibiting mild symptoms.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Lightfoot on Monday warned that the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chicago is doubling about every three to four days. That could mean 40,000 hospitalizations.

“As I have said, and it’s true, staying home saves lives. As I mentioned last week, if we don’t, in the city of Chicago alone, we’re looking at upwards of 40,000 hospitalizations, not cases, hospitalizations,” Lightfoot said. “Here in Chicago our capacity for cases is still well ahead of demand for now. But it’s truly a race against time & we have nothing to waste.”

Pritzker on Sunday had spent some of his daily press conference outlining the state’s testing capacity. He said the state ran 2,000 tests per day on March 24 and by Sunday had stretched that to 4,000 tests a day. The state plans to run 10,000 tests a day within about 9 days.

Both Pritzker and Ezike have said more testing would help them know where the virus is spreading. which will ultimately limit the infection and the spread.

“This is how we will get to the end of this pandemic sooner,” Ezike said on Sunday.

Also on Sunday, Pritzker warned that despite the state seeing its highest single-day death count — 18 — Illinois has not yet seen its peak numbers.

“We’re going to see an increase, unfortunately, of the cases and likely deaths,” the governor said.