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Chicago infant, state worker among 13 latest coronavirus deaths as Illinois case tally jumps to 3,491

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the latest spike in COVID-19 cases a week after his statewide stay-at-home order went into effect to contain the spread.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a briefing last year.
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a March 23 briefing on the state’s COVID-19 response. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

An infant from Chicago and a state employee were among Illinois’ 13 latest coronavirus deaths reported Saturday as the number of confirmed cases statewide jumped again to 3,491.

That marks the most deaths reported in a single day since the COVID-19 outbreak was first reported in late January. The deaths bring the statewide coronavirus toll up to 47.

“Upon hearing it, I admit I was shaken, and it’s appropriate for us to grieve today,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. “We should grieve with our family of state employees, with the many people we’ve already lost to this virus, young and old.”

It’s now been a week since Pritzker’s stay-at-home order went into effect. Since then, the number of coronavirus cases in Illinois has more than quadrupled, with 465 new cases reported Saturday.

“There has never before been a death associated with COVID-19 in an infant,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “A full investigation is underway to determine the cause of death. We must do everything we can to prevent the spread of this deadly virus. If not to protect ourselves, but to protect those around us.

“I want everyone to take COVID-19 seriously. If you haven’t been paying attention, maybe this is your wake-up call,” Ezike said.

The virus typically affects older people most adversely, with more than 85% of deaths in the state occurring among people 60 or older, but it’s affected all ages in Illinois.

Besides the Chicago infant, the deaths reported Saturday included two men in their 60s, two men and a woman in their 70s, and a man and woman in their 80s, all from Cook County.

Also among the dead were a McHenry County man in his 50s, two Kane County men in their 70s, a Lake County woman in her 90s and a Will County woman in her 90s.

The virus has now been confirmed in 43 of Illinois’ 102 counties. As of Saturday afternoon, 25,429 people had been tested.

Pritzker also acknowledged plans to build a makeshift hospital for thousands of coronavirus patients at the McCormick Place Convention Center, which Army Corps of Engineers officials announced on Friday.

“I’ll provide more details in the coming days, but the baseline is that we’re not waiting for the worse. We’re preparing for the worst,” Pritzker said.

Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite said on Friday there’s a “very narrow window of opportunity” to get ahead of the coronavirus pandemic, so he hopes to have the hospital ready by April 24.

“This is really out of the box,” he added.

Pritzker also said the state has “put in every waiver that we can with the federal government” to expand Medicaid coverage in Illinois during the coronavirus pandemic.

That includes two waivers requesting increased Medicaid coverage flexibilities so that everyone — insured or uninsured — can receive Medicaid-covered treatment for COVID-19, as well as other requests aimed at simplifying the enrollment process and offering more services during the pandemic.

Pritzker said Illinois is also requesting to expand Medicaid so that it provides home-delivered meals and temporary housing for people experiencing homelessness.

The makeshift hospital is one of many drastic measures Illinois has taken to fight its growing coronavirus crisis, including closing all dine-in restaurants, bars and other “non-essential services” through April 7. Illinois schools must also transition to online learning by Tuesday.

But the governor’s sweeping stay-at-home order is likely to continue “deep into April,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Friday morning. Pritzker later said that decision is evaluated on a day-by-day basis and “nothing is set in stone.”