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74 more coronavirus deaths, but ‘we are, in fact, bending the curve,’ Pritzker says

Illinois has now seen 868 deaths and 23,247 coronavirus cases. The curve “may go up again if we don’t adhere to the stay-at-home order,” the governor warned.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a briefing in April.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a Monday news conference.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Another 74 people have died from the coronavirus in Illinois as health officials announced 1,222 new cases Tuesday, but a slowing down of the exponential viral spread means “we are, in fact, bending the curve,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.

COVID-19 cases were doubling every two days as of March 22. As of Sunday, they were doubling roughly every eight days.

“The fact that our doubling rate continues to increase in every metric is a clear demonstration that there is a deceleration of virus transmission. We are, in fact, bending the curve,” Pritzker said.

But the governor warned “this curve may not flatten. And it may go up again if we don’t adhere to the stay-at-home order. We need to stay the course for now for our efforts to truly remain effective.”

Pritzker said about 80% of those who get COVID-19 recover “just fine” and don’t require hospitalization. But he warned, “we believe everybody is susceptible to COVID-19. Period. End of sentence. You either have had it already or you’re going to get it unless we have a vaccine.”

The new cases raised the statewide total to 23,247 confirmed diagnoses while the death toll stands at 868. The virus also spread to an additional county, now reported in 88 of 102 counties, officials said.

It’s still unclear when daily cases and deaths will actually drop significantly. The state remains under a stay-at-home executive order until April 30, although Pritzker this week signaled there may be some “adjustments” made to that order in the coming weeks.

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The Democratic governor outlined the state’s hospital capacity, which has not yet reached a peak.

On April 6, the number of known COVID-19 patients and suspected patients hospitalized totaled 3,680. That had steadily increased to 4,283 as of Tuesday, Pritzker said.

About 40% of ICU beds are being occupied by COVID-19 patients, while ventilator usage has increased from 24% to 29% in a week. About a quarter of the state’s ventilator supply was being used Tuesday.

But according to the Illinois Dept. of Public Health, there are only 207 ICU beds available in Chicago out of 916 total beds. It’s even worse in the southwest suburbs, where there are only 71 ICU beds available out of 427.

Pritzker has been vocal in criticizing President Donald Trump’s response to the outbreak, specifically regarding the state’s difficulty in acquiring personal protection equipment and ventilators.

Trump has said he will ultimately make the decision on when to relax the nation’s social distancing guidelines. He took that further on Monday at a news briefing, saying “I have the ultimate authority,” when asked about his authority to reopen the country.

Pritzker maintains it’s up to governors, saying Tuesday, “no matter what the president may say, I will do what’s best to safeguard the health and safety of Illinois residents. That means test, trace and treat.

“I’m hopeful the president will help us accomplish that, because that’s what will make it safer for people to begin to return to their normal lives,” Pritzker said. “What we have to do is to design a new normal, a way of life to carry us to the other side.”

The governor was also asked about whether he fears retribution from the president, in terms of withholding desperately needed resources.

“Well, I compliment the administration when they do things right, when they deliver on their promises and had been critical when they don’t,” Pritzker said. And I think that is the proper way for me to operate. I’m defending and working on behalf of the people of Illinois and each time I have been critical we’ve actually received more from the federal government. And each time I’ve been complimentary it’s because they’ve delivered on a promise to us.”