Coronavirus illness toll rises to 66 in Illinois with 20 new cases, including ‘critically ill’ downstate patient

Screening for the virus also led to large crowds Saturday night at O’Hare Airport and delays that drew a strong rebuke from Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Twitter, who demanded, “The federal government needs to get its s@#t together. NOW.”

SHARE Coronavirus illness toll rises to 66 in Illinois with 20 new cases, including ‘critically ill’ downstate patient

Gov. J.B. Pritzker provides an update on Illinois’ coronavirus situation Saturday at the Thompson Center.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Illinois’ coronavirus illness toll has hit 66 as authorities on Saturday confirmed the first cases reported downstate, including a patient in Sangamon County who is critically ill and in intensive care.

The 20 new cases mark the highest number of additional COVID-19 patients announced by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state health officials on a single day since the first patient was confirmed in Illinois Jan. 24.

Travelers delayed hours at O’Hare Airport

Screening for the virus also led to long wait times and large crowds Saturday night at O’Hare Airport that drew a strong rebuke from Pritzker on Twitter, who demanded, “The federal government needs to get its s@#t together. NOW.”

In response to several tweets from disgruntled travelers, the airport said processing was taking “longer than usual” due to screening for COVID-19 of passengers coming from Europe due to a travel ban from the continent that was announced earlier this week by President Donald Trump and expanded Saturday to include the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“The crowds & lines O’Hare are unacceptable & need to be addressed immediately,” Pritzker tweeted. “To the frustrated people trying to get home, I have spoken with the mayor and our Senators and we are working together to get the federal government to act to solve this.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot also condemned the delays on Twitter, saying: “This is unacceptable. The reactionary, poorly planned travel ban has left thousands of travelers at ORD forced into even greater health risk.”

Tweeting directly at the president, Lightfoot wrote: “@realdonaldtrump and @CBP: no one has time for your incompetence. Fully staff our airport right now, and stop putting Americans in danger.”

Pritzker rebukes St. Pat’s revelers

The cases in Illinois now span nine counties, including those in southern and central Illinois. Previously, most had clustered around the Chicago area and Cook County.

That number is expected to rise significantly in the days ahead.

“We are starting to receive results from commercial laboratory testing,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said. “With these additional results, we expect the number of identified cases to increase dramatically all across the state.”

Officials have urged people to telecommute to work if possible and travel only if absolutely necessary, as the metro area grinds further to a standstill in the wake of the viral spread.

But that didn’t stop hundreds of revelers from venturing out to bar crawls Saturday morning across the city even without any St. Patrick’s Day parade to celebrate — against the recommendations of health officials pleading for people to stay home.

That behavior also drew a stern rebuke from the governor, who urged young people to “take this seriously.

“We need you to follow social distancing guidelines too,” Pritzker said. “You can have the unintended tragic effect of spreading COVID-19 to others who are more vulnerable.”

“We saw a lot of crowds out and about today and I need to be frank,” Pritzker said. “We have seen positive results in countries that took aggressive action to slow the spread and tragic outcomes in countries that did not.”

Despite the cancelation of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Chicago amid COVID-19 concerns, people barhop in River North on Saturday, March 14, 2020.

Despite the cancelation of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Chicago amid COVID-19 concerns, people barhop in River North Saturday.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

New cases span state, including ‘critically ill’ patient

The new cases include seven from Chicago, four from suburban Cook County, one each in Kane and Lake counties, a woman in her 60s at a DuPage County long-term care facility, a Woodford County man in his 70s, and a Cumberland County man in his 70s. Two St. Clair County women also tested positive, one in her 60s and another in her 70s.

Two more cases were announced Saturday evening in Sangamon County, including one patient who was “critically ill,” according to that county’s public health officials, who said the patient was in intensive care.

Pritzker noted infection control measures are required for all nursing homes, including additional vigilance for respiratory illness, increased cleaning and visitor restrictions. The DuPage County nursing home where the woman in her 60s tested positive for COVID-19 was placed under a lockdown to monitor the health of its residents and staff.

Karen Ayala, executive director of the DuPage County Health Department, said her team was “not surprised” to see its first case of the virus.

“We’ve been working for weeks to prepare and be able to respond to this day,” Ayala said, adding that the long-term care facility had also taken preventative measures to prevent the virus’ spread. “We’re in the process of contacting everyone who’s been in close contact with the identified patient so they can be safely and quickly evaluated if a need arises.”

About a third of the COVID-19 cases in Illinois are travel related, while another third are patients who had contact with another known COVID-19 case, Ezike said. The remaining cases could have been caused by community transmission.

She said that most patients are in isolation either at home or in a hospital, but several people have completely recovered. No one has died in the state.

“We’re just learning what our new normal looks like as we protect ourselves and our community,” said Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Medicaid expansion sought from feds

Also Saturday, Pritzker announced officials would be filing a federal waiver to expand Medicaid coverage in the state. If approved, it would allow the state to access emergency funding to add new medical providers and increase access and services “to many of the state’s most vulnerable populations,” Pritzker said.

A day earlier, Pritzker ordered all schools in Illinois closed through the end of March, ensuring more than 2.2 million students will be cooped up at home as authorities try to contain the outbreak. That includes more than 350,000 Chicago Public Schools students.

To help keep those kids busy, the Chicago Park District is offering programming at 18 parks starting next week — but canceling all other large events and programming “until further notice.”

Shelves are barren at an Avondale neighborhood Target store on Saturday.

Shelves are barren at an Avondale neighborhood Target store on Saturday.

Andy Boyle/Sun-Times

Concerned Chicagoans preparing to hunker down for extended periods of “social distancing” continued to clear the shelves at stores across the city. Grocery stores have struggled to keep up with demand and long lines of people stocking up on the essentials — most notably hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

Pritzker also urged people who think they might be infected to “call a health care provider. Don’t just show up. Call first,” the governor said, “unless your condition is of a dire nature.”

Trump negative for COVID-19

After days of resisting testing, the White House announced Saturday that Trump had tested negative for COVID-19 after he came into contact with two people at his Mar-a-Lago Club who were later diagnosed with the virus.

Good news also came for approximately 1,200 game-day United Center workers who have been told they will continue to be paid for games that have been canceled after the NBA and NHL announced in recent days they would be suspending their seasons out of concerns about spreading coronavirus, according to a joint statement from Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz, who is an investor in the Sun-Times.

The decision to pay the workers comes amidst fears that people who work in Chicago’s entertainment industry could go weeks or even months without pay, as the rapidly spreading coronavirus shuts down concert venues, theaters and entire sports leagues.

‘Bean’ closed at Millennium Park

Elsewhere, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announced jail visits would be canceled starting Sunday, along with all court-ordered evictions after a deputy came into contact with a man showing symptoms earlier this week. That person is under evaluation.

The city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events announced Saturday that Cloud Gate Plaza — a popular selfie destination that is the home of artist Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” sculpture, commonly referred to as the “Bean” — would be closed to the public until April 12. Millennium Park would remain open, the city said, but all events would be suspended. The department also announced the closure of the Chicago Cultural Center.

The Chicago History Museum also joined most other educational institutions across the city in temporarily shuttering out of coronavirus caution.

“The Chicago History Museum will review this decision on a week-by-week basis and reopen when we feel it is appropriate to do so,” officials said.

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