Illinois coronavirus case tally jumps to 288: You could be next, governor says

The state reported 128 new cases Wednesday, the biggest increase in patients since the outbreak began.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks about the state’s COVID-19 response Wednesday at the Jackson County courthouse in downstate Murphysboro.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks about the state’s COVID-19 response Wednesday at the Jackson County courthouse in downstate Murphysboro.

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The largest single-day spike in Illinois’ number of confirmed COVID-19 cases brought the state’s total to 288 Wednesday as the viral pandemic expands its reach across the United States.

And there’s a good chance you could be next, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said, in his most pointed plea yet for residents to stay home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“If you don’t feel well, please stay home. … You should just assume that you may have coronavirus. Just assume that,” Pritzker said during a news conference in downstate Murphysboro. “What would you do? You should self-isolate. That is the right thing to do.”

The 128 new cases extended to two new counties, Kendall and Madison, and 17 overall. Patients have ranged in age from 9 to 91, with 20 new cases dealing the latest blows to a DuPage County nursing home that has now tallied 42 cases — 30 residents and 12 staffers.

Statewide numbers will continue to jump “significantly” as more testing becomes available, according to Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike. Just over 2,000 tests had been administered as of Wednesday afternoon.

Things will get worse

“These numbers in Illinois will become much worse before they get better,” Pritzker said, calling obtaining more test kits “the biggest challenge we face.”

“Some of you might look at the illnesses and death in other countries and think, ‘Well that couldn’t happen here.’ Make no mistake: no place and no person is immune from COVID-19. The difference between where we are in our response and where other nations are is just a few weeks,” Pritzker said. “We must act with urgency.”

Some of those patients have recovered since the state’s first case was confirmed Jan. 24, but the first death in Illinois attributed to the pandemic was reported Tuesday after a 61-year-old South Side woman died at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

More campus cases

Illinois’ total also includes patients from DePaul University, Columbia College and the University of Chicago, which each reported that students, staffers or faculty members had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Those schools are among hundreds of others that have shut down campuses — or will soon do so — following Pritzker’s order last week that closed elementary and high schools for more than 2.2 million students. While that order was through the end of the month in an effort to limit interaction and slow the spread of the virus, state education officials indicated later Wednesday that “there is a very real possibility of the closure extending beyond March 30” as currently planned. A North Side private school reported six cases stemming from a fundraiser held earlier this month, though no students were among the confirmed carriers.

The latest Illinois toll was announced hours after President Donald Trump called himself a “wartime president” up against the virus, invoking the Defense Production Act to boost production of medical supplies. The federal Treasury Department also announced it planned to begin issuing $500 billion in direct payments to Americans starting next month to help stabilize an economy mired by the viral threat.

That could be good news for thousands of Illinois service and hospitality industry workers trying to scrape by after the governor’s unprecedented move to shutter bars and restaurants except for carryout service. Several shopping malls in the metro area — including Gurnee Mills and Woodfield Mall in Elk Grove — and a slew of department stores made plans to close, too.

Mayor’s primetime address

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who announced she’d deliver a primetime address to Chicagoans Thursday night outlining the city’s “comprehensive and proactive steps” to confront the pandemic, also tried to ease the burden on some residents beset by the shutdown. The city announced it would pause debt collection, ticketing and towing. Additionally, the state Commerce Commission announced an emergency order for a moratorium on utility disconnections.

Illinois first ‘shelter-in-place order

Beyond the school and business closures, the state has stopped short of a full-on “shelter-in-place” order similar to in California, but Pritzker’s office has said “the situation is being monitored on an ongoing basis.”

The situation was different in Oak Park, though, where Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb declared a local state of emergency and issued an order requiring residents to shelter in place starting March 20 through April 3.

“I do want to assure all of you, essential services will always remain available — grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations. The things we all need will not be closing down,” Pritzker said Wednesday.

Statehouse cancels session, census delays count

That doesn’t extend to the state Capitol, though. After a hectic election day hobbled by low turnout in the wake of COVID-19 concerns, lawmakers announced the statehouse was canceling its session next week, wiping out a second week of the legislative calendar.

And an accurate count of Illinois residents could be the next casualty of the pandemic. The U.S. Census Bureau announced it was suspending its once-per-decade field operations already underway at least until April 1, to “help protect the health and safety of the American public, Census Bureau employees.”

Contributing: Tina Sfondeles, Manny Ramos, David Struett, Nader Issa

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