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26 more coronavirus deaths in Illinois with Pritzker set to extend stay-at-home order through April

There are now 99 fatalities in the state due to the coronavirus outbreak, health officials said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a daily briefing in March 2020. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

With the state reporting another 26 deaths in Illinois due to the coronavirus, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday he’ll extend the state’s stay-at-home order until the end of April.

There are now 99 fatalities in Illinois due to the outbreak, health officials said. Tuesday marked the highest number of coronavirus deaths the state has confirmed in a single day.

It’s also a stark reminder that Illinois has not yet seen its “peak,” a point Pritzker has reiterated at his daily briefings.

“We have to see the peak here. We haven’t seen the peak,” Pritzker said on Tuesday. “We don’t know when we’re going to peak. And we don’t know when we’re going to come off that peak.”

Pritzker has said that the decision on the stay-at-home order was being evaluated on a day-to-day basis based on talks with medical experts, scientists and modelers, among others.

The current executive order expires on April 7, when some of Illinois’ K-12 schools were initially set to reopen. Mayor Lori Lightfoot earlier this month announced Chicago Public Schools would be closed at least until April 21.

Pritzker will issue another disaster proclamation, allowing him to sign additional executive orders. The governor plans to sign those orders on Wednesday, according to the governor’s office.

Pritzker’s new executive orders will run until April 30 and will also mandate the continued closure of Illinois schools. Essential businesses will remain open.

Health officials said an additional 937 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the state’s total to 5,994 cases. Of the 26 fatalities recorded on Tuesday, 17 occurred in Cook County, officials said. The virus has now spread to 54 of the state’s 102 counties. The youngest victim reported Tuesday was a 30-year-old woman in McLean County.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the head of the Illinois Dept. of Public Health, said that new CDC guidelines warn that people might be transmitting the virus 24 to 48 hours before showing symptoms, highlighting yet another reason to socially distance and to stay home.

Ezike also said that the death of an infant who tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday remains under investigation.

Pritzker stood alongside Mayor Lori Lightfoot in explaining his reasoning behind the extension of his stay-at-home order. He also had words for the students across the state who are now learning remotely and might be missing key moments in their school year, like prom.

“It’s OK to be sad, and if you do feel sad or frustrated or angry, whatever you feel, please let yourself feel that way. Don’t beat yourself up over being human. And if you’re experiencing overwhelming anxiety or you have a friend who is, and you need someone to talk to, there are resources available to you by phone and online through both ISBE [Illinois State Board of Education] and our [Illinois] Dept. of Human Services, as well as the city of Chicago,” Pritzker said.

Under the extended school order, schools will transition from “act of God” days to remote learning days, with all days counting towards the school year and no makeup days needed.

Lightfoot, who was introduced by the governor as “the star of Where’s Lightfoot,” said she’s enjoying the many memes featuring her popping up across the city. She was also asked if the executive order would be a continuation of the closure of Chicago’s parks and lakefront path: “Oh yes. All that remains closed.”

The mayor said she fully supported it.

“This may not be what residents want, but it is what we need,” Lightfoot said. “The first step in combatting COVID-19 is following the governor’s stay-at-home order. Stay home. Save lives. Period. The fewer people who stay home, the longer this crisis will last and candidly, the more people who will die. And the longer it will take us to recover.”

Pritzker said as of March 30, Illinois hospitals reported that 41% of adult intensive care unit beds were “empty,” meaning they are staffed and ready for patients. There are also 68% of available ventilators available across Illinois, which is about 4% less than last week.

“We’re still within our capacity, and we’re working every day to acquire new ventilators or convert alternate-use ventilators to increase that capacity, but from all the modeling that we’ve seen, our greatest risk of hitting capacity isn’t right now, but weeks from now,” Pritzker said. “The virus spread is growing, so are its risks. We must not let up now.”

The Democratic governor for weeks has said the federal government is not pulling its weight when it comes to helping states procure personal protective equipment (PPE) and hospital equipment, like ventilators.

On Monday, Pritzker said the White House sent hundreds of thousands of the wrong type of masks to Illinois. After weeks of criticizing Trump’s response to the outbreak on national television and daily in press briefings, Pritzker last week said he was thankful for a White House shipment of N95 masks, which came after Pritzker asked Trump personally for help.

Instead, the state received surgical masks, Pritzker said.

“My team is sorting through the shipment of 300,000 N95 masks the White House personally told me would be sent to our state,” Pritzker said Monday. “And while we do not have a final count on this yet, I can say with certainty that what they sent were not the N95 masks that were promised, but instead were surgical masks, which is not what we asked for,” Pritzker said of the shipment.

The governor’s office on Tuesday said the federal government is aware of the botched shipment.

“FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] is aware of the mix up and is working to fulfill the order properly,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said.

Pritzker has not personally spoken to Trump about the mistake, the governor’s office said.