Illinois sees biggest spike in coronavirus deaths — 125 — as toll tops 1,000

The grim daily death toll is a reminder the state might not have reached its peak, although Gov. J.B. Pritzker has for days signaled some optimism based on the “doubling rate” of infections slowing down.

SHARE Illinois sees biggest spike in coronavirus deaths — 125 — as toll tops 1,000
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a March 30 news conference.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a March 30 news conference.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Days after Gov. J.B. Pritzker voiced optimism about the state “bending the curve,” Illinois health officials on Thursday announced the grim reality that 125 more people had died from the coronavirus, marking the highest number of deaths announced in a single day as the statewide toll eclipsed 1,000.

There were also 1,140 newly confirmed cases, bringing the state’s tally of total positive cases to 25,733, according to the Illinois Dept. of Public Health.

In all, 1,072 people have died from the coronavirus in Illinois. While a 125-death jump added to Wednesday’s total would’ve come to 1,073, the governor’s office said one of the deaths had been “reclassified.”

The virus also spread to another county, with 90 of 102 counties now reporting cases.

As the state has seen nearly every day, Cook County recorded the most deaths on Thursday: 92. That included several clusters of elderly residents, including 18 men in their 70s; 10 women in their 80s and 17 men in their 80s. The youngest was a Cook County man in his 30s.

The surge is a reminder the state may not have reached its peak, although Pritzker has for days signaled some optimism based on the doubling rate of infections slowing down.

“You have heard me say it before. This is a marathon,” state Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “We have to keep pace. Can’t get ahead of ourselves. You can see that we still have many new cases and unfortunately many lives that continue to be lost, but running together we will still beat this COVID-19.”

Officials also emphasized that the state’s hospitals have not gone over capacity. Chicago’s ICU bed availability improved this week, going from just 16% open beds to 24%.

No doctor’s order needed for those with symptoms to get tested

Pritzker on Thursday outlined the state’s efforts to ramp up its testing capacity. Illinois ran 5,660 tests on Wednesday. More than 122,000 people have been tested overall.

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Pritzker also announced the statewide criteria for testing has been updated to include all patients who have “COVID-like symptoms, even if you have not been given a doctor’s order.” But he warned that people with “mild” symptoms should still “call before showing up.”

That criteria is specifically for state-run testing sites but will also be offered to medical providers across the state.

“This will apply to our state-run drive-thru testing centers, and it is guidance that we will now be offering to providers, all across the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said.

In addition to two drive-thru testing sites on the Northwest Side and in McLean County, which were initially run by the federal government, another site opened this week in Markham in a vehicle emissions testing station. That site took in 600 specimens on its first day of operation, Pritzker said, adding the amount is about four times what the federally run sites were running.

The governor said two more sites will be added “in the coming days.”

State labs boost testing capacity

And a week after complaining that Thermo Fisher machines were not producing valid results, Pritzker said the state is working with the company to improve testing capacities at the state’s labs. The machines are also now running with reliable results, the governor said. The state estimates that there will be thousands more tests run per day at state labs alone.

And in order to collect more specimens, the state is expanding testing to federally qualified health centers across the state, including in Roseland, Chatham, Englewood, Austin and several suburbs.

“We asked, which of the over 300 centers would be interested in helping us expand testing. An overwhelming number of them were eager to help,” Pritzker said. “We now have sites coming online across Chicago, the collar counties, Peoria and in southern Illinois, with many more centers expressing interest and working to get their operations up and running.”

COVID-19 care station opens in Little Village

Also at the daily briefing, David Munar, president and CEO of Howard Brown Health, announced a new COVID-19 care station in Little Village near 26th Street and Pulaski. It will be staffed Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

“Services are being provided at no cost, and without regard to immigration status,” Munar said.

He noted that “Latinx” people have the lowest rate of health care coverage of any racial ethnic group.

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