68 more die in Illinois from the coronavirus, but hospital capacity still ‘manageable’

There are still 900 intensive care unit beds available across the state, but the director of a field hospital at McCormick Place said the site will be prepared to take in patients by next week.

SHARE 68 more die in Illinois from the coronavirus, but hospital capacity still ‘manageable’
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference last year.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a March 30 coronavirus briefing.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Illinois health officials on Friday said another 68 people have died from the coronavirus — and Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced testing would be increased in black communities, which are disproportionately affected by the outbreak.

Officials said there were 1,465 new positive cases of the virus, which has now been confirmed in 83 of 102 counties. In total, 596 people have died in Illinois out of 17,887 who have tested positive.

Of the deaths, 45 were in Cook County, including the youngest death statewide: a Cook County man in his 20s.

Statewide, 43% of the people who died were black, while 34% were white, according to the department. In Chicago, however, 70% of those who have died were black.

“We will not stand idly by while one segment of the population bears an unfortunate heightened burden of this disease,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said Friday as she announced an equity team to address challenges and also more testing sites across the state.

Ezike said many factors, including underlying conditions, are behind “alarmingly high rates of COVID-19” in Illinois’ black population.

“This disparity is true both for cases and in the deaths. Overall mortality rates among blacks are five times higher than whites,” Ezike said. “Black life expectancy continues to be years shorter than the population as a whole. And there are many reasons for this. And let’s not, of course, forget the centuries of structural and institutional racism.”

To increase testing in black communities, Pritzker said Lurie Children’s Hospital will partner with federally qualified health centers on the South and West sides. The centers will take specimens for 400 people per day and send them to Lurie for testing.

Also, a new state-run south suburban drive-thru testing site will open early next week in the Markham and Harvey area. In the Metro East region, starting next week, three locations at the Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation system will take 470 specimens per day and send them to a hospital in Madison County.

“Generations of systemic disadvantages in health care delivery, and in health care access in communities of color and black communities in particular, are now amplified in this crisis,” Pritzker said.

He said one way to help is more “ubiquitous testing” —thinking about where and how the tests are made available.

There were 6,679 new tests administered Thursday and 87,527 overall statewide, according to Pritkzer’s office.

His office on Friday said it appeared hospital capacity remains steady and manageable despite the growing patient pool.

Even so, Dr. Nick Turkal, executive director of the field hospital set up at McCormick Place, said he has assembled a team of 400 health care workers for that site, aimed at treating COVID-19 patients when — and if — hospitals overflow. Turkal said they’ll be prepared to take in patients by next week.

The mayor’s office said 600 workers spanning eight trades working in unison built up 2,250 patient rooms within just under two weeks at McCormick Place.

Dr. Suzet McKinney, operational director for the five alternative care facilities, said the five sites — McCormick Place; Metro South Health Center in Blue Island; Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park; Advocate Sherman Hospital Campus in Elgin; and Vibra Hospital in Springfield — will serve “to supplement, not replace” acute care hospitals.

McKinney said construction at Westlake, Metro South and Sherman should be completed by April 24; after that, they’ll need two days to train staff. Vibra has a more extended timeline; its targeted opening date is May 9, she said.

Pritzker’s office on Friday said 1,941 intensive care unit beds are in use in the state’s 211 hospitals, with 1,200 of those patients being treated for COVID-19. There are still 900 ICU beds available.

There are 1,206 ventilators being used statewide — 790 by coronavirus patients. There are still 1,737 ventilators available, Pritzker’s office said.

Despite Wednesday’s record spike of 82 Illinois deaths, Pritzker said “our rate of rise is looking less and less exponential.”

“That indicates to us that we are, in fact, bending the curve. There is even some evidence that we may be moving toward a flatter curve. But we need to keep watching the data on a daily basis,” Pritzker said.

He also warned of a second wave.

“The question that everybody should be thinking about is, it’s not just about the peak that we’re potentially going through over the next several weeks,” Pritzker said. “There’s also the threat of a peak in the fall. ... If you really begin to open things up, you’re going to have a second wave. And so we need to make sure that we’re fully prepared. We don’t want to have a second wave, and God forbid, we do because other places in the country open up.”

He said the key to preventing that is testing, tracing and treatment.

“And even with that, I would still say we all need to pray for those who are developing treatments and the vaccines,” the governor said.

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