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Gov. Pritzker remains ‘cautiously optimistic’ as Illinois surpasses 20,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 720 deaths

In total, 20,852 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Illinois, and 720 of them have died. The virus has spread to 86 of the state’s 102 counties, and about 100,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Illinois.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a daily briefing in March 2020.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s speaks at a March 21 news conference.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Another 43 people have died of COVID-19 as Illinois surpassed 20,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Sunday, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he was “cautiously optimistic” the state could be “bending the curve” to keep hospitals within their patient capacity.

The additional 1,672 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, which Pritzker announced during his Sunday news conference, brings the statewide total to 20,852 cases and 720 deaths throughout 86 of Illinois’ 102 counties.

Since Pritzker’s last update Saturday, 7,956 people were tested for COVID-19 throughout the state. That’s closer to the goal of 10,000 tests per day that experts say would be needed to get an accurate understanding of the virus’ spread throughout Illinois — and the highest number of tests administered in a single day so far.

“That is great news on the testing front,” Pritzker said. “I’ve spoken before about a stabilizing or bending of the curve, and today is another piece of evidence that it might be happening.”

But when it comes to reopening the state after the coronavirus epidemic slows, Pritzker said he was relying on the advice of industry leaders, economists and “most importantly” scientists and doctors.

The governor handled Sunday’s coronavirus update alone, except for a sign-language interpreter. Pritzker said he gave Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, the day off so she could stay at home with her family.

He also thanked Illinois residents for complying with his stay-at-home order, even during Easter and other April holidays traditionally celebrated in large groups.

“I know how hard it is to break from traditional celebrations of togetherness, but I believe passionately that adapting our expressions of faith during these times is one of the most faithful acts of all,” Pritzker said. “To hold our beliefs steadfast even as we face unprecedented challenges.”

Pritzker also spoke about the upcoming general election, saying the state needs to make it easier for everyone in Illinois to vote by mail, so if the state continues to be in the midst of a pandemic, voters can easily and safely participate in the fall election.

“Let me make sure everybody understands that the governor of Illinois does not have the constitutional power to shut down an election,” Pritzker said of the state’s recent primary election, which saw extremely low voter turnout.

“We relied on the local election authorities and backed them up in this effort so they’d have hand sanitizer, PPE and all the things needed to protect the people working in those facilities where people are voting.”

Pritzker also announced that 100,000 N95 masks were donated to Illinois health care providers and first responders over the weekend from Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Also Sunday, millionaire businessman Willie Wilson donated an additional 10,000 N95 and surgical masks to the Chicago Police Department.

Wilson, who said he was mourning the death of a close friend who died of COVID-19, had already donated hundreds of thousands of medical masks to police, the Fire Department, Chicago Transit Authority and other essential workers.

“I am motivated to do even more to protect those who are putting their lives on the line to protect and care for us,” Wilson said in a statement. “We owe it to them to protect them too. We’re in this thing together.”

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th eWard) also announced Sunday his online fundraiser supporting the Chicago Police Department and other front line workers with free meals has raised more than $76,000 from nearly 1,100 donors.

On Tuesday, his office will deliver more than 1,900 lunches — individually wrapped pizzas, pastas, salads or other boxed meals — to on-duty officers and administrative staff in each of the city’s 22 police districts.

Thousands of meals have already been provided through the fundraiser to staff at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park and the 19th Ward police and fire stations, according to O’Shea’s office.