16 more die in Illinois from COVID-19

Though Thursday’s new case count is lower, health officials have warned Illinois has not yet seen its peak.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a daily briefing in March 2020.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a March 21 news conference.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Illinois health officials on Thursday said another 16 people have died from the coronavirus, with another 715 new cases being reported.

The latest numbers were lower than the record-high 42 deaths recorded a day earlier, but even though the new case count was lower, the Illinois Department of Public Health has warned that the state has not yet seen the peak impact of the pandemic.

In total, 157 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois. The 715 new cases bring the state to 7,695 confirmed cases, with the virus now reported in 61 of 102 counties, health officials said.

Twelve of the latest deaths were in Cook County, including a man in his 30s and a man and woman in their 40s, officials said.

Among the deaths was a narcotics officer in the Chicago Police Department, marking the first fatal COVID-19 case to hit a nearly 14,000-person department with more than 60 confirmed cases. Interim CPD Supt. Charlie Beck identified the officer as Marco DiFranco.

To handle the anticipated influx of patients, construction on the McCormick Place field hospital is expected to be completed on Friday, with an initial 500-bed capacity for patients who don’t require intensive care. It won’t be used until or unless hospitals hit their full capacity, which hasn’t happened yet.

At his daily briefing, Pritzker said he’s adding a fourth new field hospital, Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park, which will ultimately have a 230-bed capacity. Construction at four sites, including McCormick Place, will be “completed on a rolling basis” throughout April.

“As I’ve said throughout this process, building out hospital capacity is only part of our approach to COVID-19. We also must slow the spread of the virus. If we don’t, there could never be enough hospital capacity to treat all of those who would become ill,” Pritzker said.

And the Illinois National Guard is on site at the Stateville Correctional Center in Hill Crest, where there are 48 inmates with confirmed cases of the coronavirus. One inmate has died, officials said. Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said 16 of 19 inmates remain hospitalized.

The state was also scheduled to receive 15 Abbott Laboratories machines which can test for COVID-19 within five minutes, Ezike said.

She warned that while the majority of cases are in Cook County, the virus is spreading to the state’s rural and southern areas.

“The virus is present and they should join all their fellow Illinoisans in staying at home, so that we can all get back to normal on the other side of this pandemic,” Ezike said.

She also warned against churches and religious institutions still holding services.

“We must not continue putting people at risk,” Ezike said. “Please hold virtual services, whether by web or phone.”

As Illinois residents continue to abide by a stay-at-home executive order, the state is also reeling with an unprecedented number of unemployment claims due to COVID-19.

The unemployment rate decreased over-the-year in February in all fourteen Illinois metropolitan areas and all 102 counties, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday.

But the Illinois Department of Employment Security counted 178,421 initial claims for jobless benefits for the last full week in March, compared with 114,114 for the week ending March 21. In turn, that number was up 950% from the week of March 14.

In the same end-of-March week last year, there were just 9,230 first-time claims.

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