Illinois confirms more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases as testing capacity grows

The 1,105 new cases reported Sunday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker include 18 deaths and bring Illinois total number of cases to 4,596 and 65 deaths.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a March 23 news conference. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a March 23 news conference.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Sunday announced more than 1,000 new cases of the coronavirus in Illinois, including 18 more deaths, bringing the statewide total up to 4,596 cases and 65 deaths.

Pritzker said the 1,105 new cases — more than double Saturday’s tally and higher than any daily total so far — are due to increased coronavirus testing capacity in Illinois.

Right now, the state runs about 4,000 coronavirus tests daily, which is up from the 2,000 tests Illinois was capable of running on March 24.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said those additional tests “help us better understand the amount of virus circulating in our community.”

“There are many who are ill with only mild, minimal symptoms who still may be unknowingly transmitting this virus,” she added.

Still, the 4,000 daily coronavirus tests are not enough to fully understand the extent of Illinois’ coronavirus outbreak, Pritzker said.

Pritzker said he hopes Illinois will reach about 10,000 tests daily within the next 10 days. That’s the number needed to get a “truly holistic understanding of the virus in each of our 102 counties.”

“Every day we aren’t hitting 10,000 tests or more is another day that we’re not able to get answers that help us get past this crisis,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker again slammed the federal government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, calling the state’s inability to run enough coronavirus tests a “profound failure of the federal government.”

Illinois also needs to boost its medical capacity so that hospitals aren’t overwhelmed while the state’s coronavirus caseload rises in the coming weeks, Pritzker said.

“There is not enough capacity today,” Pritzker said.

Illinois is building facilities across the state, including a field hospital at McCormick Place Convention Center, to meet the impending influx of coronavirus patients, Pritzker said.

Ezike also said that officials are still investigating the death of an infant who tested positive for COVID-19.

“There’s a lot of concern hearing about the death of an infant who also had COVID-19, so we really want to get a complete report,” Ezike said. “But as we’ve looked at reports across the world and we have not seen infants with COVID-19 to have serious sickness, illness and definitely not death in the past.”

Cook County medical examiner’s office spokeswoman Natalia Derevyanny said further testing results likely won’t be available until later this week.

The child hasn’t been identified, Derevyanny said, noting the medical examiner’s counsel is waiting for guidance from the Cook County state’s attorney’s office on whether to identify victims of the coronavirus moving forward. The office has received guidance not to release the names based on the Communicable Disease Report Act, which makes certain death reports confidential.

Also on Sunday, a nonprofit that typically sends medical equipment internationally hosted a donation drive outside the United Center seeking masks, protective eyewear, gloves and other gear for health care workers fighting the virus in the United States.

Project C.U.R.E., a non-governmental organization with a warehouse in Woodridge, shifted its focus to the needs of domestic health care workers about two weeks ago, according to Beth Rottman, executive director of Project C.U.R.E.’s Chicago office. Shortly after the drive kicked off Sunday in Chicago, a stream of cars pulled into the parking lot and drivers handed off boxes and equipment to waiting volunteers.

All five major Chicago sports teams helped promote Sunday’s supply drive in the shadow of the United Center, which went dark after concerts and the NBA and NHL seasons were suspended in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

Meanwhile, two additional employees in the Cook County clerk’s office have also tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total to eight confirmed positive cases there.

In an emailed statement Sunday, the clerk’s office said both employees worked in the traffic division at the Daley Center. Employees who were in close contact with those who tested positive “have been notified to self-quarantine at home and monitor themselves for any COVID-19 symptoms for a period of 14 days,” officials said.

Also Sunday, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle announced county forest preserves will remain open — though some have been closed to the public to promote social distancing and other public health guidelines.

“The Forest Preserves has always offered us access to the natural world close to home and a place to be outside,” Preckwinkle said in a statement. “But if we see places where people are not fully following their responsibility, we can and will close those locations.”

Preckwinkle’s warning comes three days after Mayor Lori Lightfoot closed Chicago’s Lakefront, Riverwalk and the 606 trails after throngs of people flocked to the outdoor paths when temperatures rose last Wednesday.

So far, the county has closed the Swallow Cliff stairs; all six nature centers, grounds and trails; nature play areas and campgrounds; and all public restrooms. All events and volunteer activities have also been nixed through May 11 in accordance with recommendations from the CDC.

Officials will report crowding and members of the public are encouraged to report gatherings by calling the Forest Preserve Police Department at (708) 771-1000. Signs have been installed to remind visitors of “the importance of social distancing,” and members of the Forest Preserve Police have been advised to disperse any crowds, according to a statement.

Cook County also announced that nearly 60,000 food stamps recipients are getting a reprieve through a coronavirus relief package signed this month — though it’s only temporary.

Those individuals — who are able-bodied, without dependents and under age 50 — were at risk of losing their public benefits under fresh guidelines that took effect this year. Because of improved economic conditions in the county, they had to meet certain work, school or volunteer requirements or be restricted to three months of benefits every three years.

The fallout — possibly losing benefits — was expected to hit around the same time a similar but unconnected Trump administration rule to reduce access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, affected the same category of people nationwide. In Illinois, an additional 90,000 people would have been affected by that federal rule change expected to take effect April 1. Nationwide, nearly 700,000 could have lost benefits.

Attorneys general in roughly 20 states, including Illinois and Michigan, sued and a judge granted an injunction March 13, but that would have left out Cook County.

Now, all able-bodied recipients will continue to receive benefits during the national emergency and get a one-month grace period when it ends.

Contributing: Tina Sfondeles, Jermaine Nolen, AP

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