Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday announced three more deaths in Illinois due to the coronavirus outbreak, as the state’s total number of COVID-19 patients hit 422.
The pandemic has now claimed four lives in the state. Patricia Frieson, 61, of Chicago, was the first person to die of the novel coronavirus in Illinois on Monday.
The three additional victims include a Will County man in his 50s, a Cook County woman in her 80s and a Florida woman in her 70s who was visiting downstate Sangamon County.
With 134 new confirmed cases, it was the largest single-day spike in patients — followed by the 128 cases announced a day earlier.
The number will continue to grow “exponentially” and “will not abate soon,” Pritzker said, mostly as a result of expanded testing.
As of Thursday afternoon, 3,151 COVID-19 tests had been administered, and the state will soon be able to test up to 2,000 people per day, Pritzker said. About 1,000 tests were conducted a day earlier.
But the growing number “also reflects a rapid spread of disease across communities,” according to Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike.
“These moments will not get easier, nor should they,” Pritzker said. “We are fighting this fight for every person in Illinois. We’ve all lost something today.”
The pandemic extended to five new counties — Jackson, Kankakee, LaSalle, Washington, and Williamson — and has now been reported in 22 counties overall. Patients have ranged in age from 9 to 99.
“We ask everyone to please, stay home as much as possible so we can reduce the number of people who are infected and potentially suffer serious illness, including death,” Ezike said.
With school canceled for 2 million-plus students through the end of the month, Pritzker said “parents should be contemplating the possibility that that [closure] might be extended.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot went a step further Thursday, extending the closure for 350,000 Chicago Public Schools students through at least April 20.
Lightfoot also issued an unprecedented public health order that all Chicagoans with confirmed cases of coronavirus — as well as those just exhibiting symptoms of the highly-contagious disease — must stay home, under threat of citations and fines, to prevent community spread of the pandemic.
Regarding statewide lockdown rumors — and following a shelter-in-place order issued by village leaders in Oak Park — Pritzker said Thursday “essential services will not close. Interstate highways and bridges will stay open. Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations. These sources of fundamental supplies will continue to operate.”
He again urged people not to hoard supplies.
“There is no need to run out and hoard food, gas, or medicine. Buy what you need within reason. There is enough to go around as long as people do not hoard,” Pritzker said. “We will never shut these services down.”
Many of those stores that have seen long lines and empty shelves this week agreed to set aside specific shopping hours reserved for older residents who are more vulnerable to the virus.
And as the state economy grinds toward a halt for thousands of owners and workers, Pritzker said the state will defer sales tax payments for 24,000 small and medium-sized bars and restaurants. He also announced many small businesses are now eligible for low -interest disaster assistance loans from the federal Small Business Administration.