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Pritzker recruits retired doctors, nurses as Illinois coronavirus cases hit 753: ‘This is hero’s work’

Pritzker asked for the medical reinforcements Saturday while announcing the sixth death in Illinois attributed to COVID-19 so far.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks about the coronavirus situation in Illinois Saturday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks about the coronavirus situation in Illinois Saturday.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a “call to action” Saturday for retired doctors and nurses to return to the field as the state’s health care system braces for a surge in confirmed coronavirus cases.

With the launch of his statewide “stay-at-home” order looming, Pritzker asked for the medical reinforcements while announcing Illinois’ COVID-19 outbreak expanded by 168 patients, bringing the statewide total to 753.

That includes a Cook County man in his 70s whose death marked the sixth in Illinois attributed to the disease so far, according to Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike.

The Cook County medical examiner’s office on Saturday identified two Chicago residents whose deaths have been attributed to the coronavirus. Timothy Loving, 59, of Austin and Diane Breymeyer, 80, of Old Town, each died of respiratory problems brought on by COVID-19, as well as other contributing conditions.

DuPage County officials said Saturday that they had 69 total cases with no deaths. Forty-six of those cases were at a long-term care facility in Willowbrook, including 33 residents and 13 staff members.

“We’re in the middle of a battle, and we need reinforcements,” Pritzker said. “This is hero’s work, and all of you have our deepest gratitude for your willingness to serve.”

The governor asked all former physicians, nurses, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners and respiratory care therapists who have recently left the field to return to the frontline so current health care workers aren’t overloaded by the pandemic.

Beginning Monday, the state will waive any application fees and expedite the licensing process so medical professionals can get back to work as soon as possible, Pritzker said. Licenses that are expiring soon will automatically be extended through September.

But for health care workers to adequately fight Illinois’ growing coronavirus outbreak, they need the public to help by staying home.

“What’s important now is to try to reduce the further spread and prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed,” Ezike said.

She said stocks of personal protective equipment — gloves, gowns, eye protection and respirator masks — are being “used rapidly.” By staying home, residents will help slow the viral spread and allow medical professionals to replenish supplies as they dwindle, Ezike said.

The number of cases could hit 3,400 within a week with expanded testing, according to Pritzker’s office.

Ezike stressed that patients who are healthy enough can — and should — recover at home.

“The vast majority of people recover uneventfully without being in an ICU or ventilator,” she said.

Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, effective through April 7, bolsters the social distancing guidelines that health officials have urged.

Only essential businesses — including grocery stores, pharmacies, medical offices, hospitals and gas stations — will remain open. The measure also extends to Illinois schools, which be closed through April 7. Chicago Public Schools, however, will stay closed through April 21, Mayor Lori Lightfoot previously directed.

“Non-essential” retailers along the city’s Magnificent Mile started preparing for the closures Saturday morning, with The Disney Store, Sephora and MCM all boarding up their front windows.

A handful of stores were boarded up on the Magnificent Mile Saturday before Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order takes effect.
A handful of stores were boarded up Saturday on the Magnificent Mile before Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order took effect.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Roads and highways will stay open. So will public transportation systems, although Metra has already started cutting services.

Earlier Saturday, CTA officials announced a bus driver working out of a Northwest Side garage tested positive for the coronavirus. A Chicago police officer and two fire department employees were diagnosed earlier in the week as well.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot urged residents to keep calm and shop responsibly during a Saturday morning news conference.

“There’s absolutely no need for people to rush to grocery stores or hoard any food or supplies,” Lightfoot said. “We are in constant communication with major retailers to maintain a strong food supply. And they have and they will. Everything will remain stocked and available.”