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More than 2,500 health care workers among Illinois’ coronavirus case total, which now tops 35K

Wednesday’s daily case count is the highest the state has seen, but it’s also the most tests the state has run in a day. The previous high positive count was 1,842 cases on April 17. The state on Tuesday ran 9,349 tests, which is close to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s goal of running 10,000 tests a day.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike and Gov. J.B. Pritzker appear at an April 13 news briefing.
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike and Gov. J.B. Pritzker appear at an April 13 news briefing.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

More than 2,500 health care workers have tested positive for the coronavirus in Illinois so far, including eight who have died since the pandemic began, officials said Wednesday.

Those front-line workers account for about 7% of the statewide COVID-19 case tally, which stands at 35,108.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike outlined the situation facing health care workers after announcing 2,049 newly confirmed cases across the state — the highest increase Illinois has seen in a day, but one that followed the most tests administered in a day.

The state on Tuesday ran 9,349 tests, close to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s goal of running 10,000 tests a day, and has run more than 164,000 tests overall.

Officials also said another 98 people have died of the virus, raising the state’s death toll to 1,565.

Ezike said that of the 2,500-plus health care workers who have tested positive, “potentially” eight have died.

Those figures are submitted to the state by hospitals and include anyone working in a health care establishment, from nurses and therapists to front desk staffers.

“It may not be complete. It’s what we have,” Ezike said.

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As of Tuesday, there were still 918 ICU beds available in the state’s hospitals, according to Pritzker’s office. Chicago and suburban hospitals are seeing the highest occupancies, with those averaging under 25 percent of available ICU beds.

Cook County remains the center of the Illinois outbreak. Of Tuesday’s 119 deaths, 88 were in Cook County. On Wednesday, 69 of the 98 deaths were in Cook County, including 8 men in their 70s, 16 men in their 80s and 8 women in their 90s. The youngest death reported statewide was a Cook County woman in her 30s.

At his daily briefing, Pritzker announced a new testing drive-thru site opened Wednesday in Aurora at the Chicago Premium Outlets mall, which can handle up to 600 specimens. Another site will open in Rockford on Friday at the University of Illinois College of Medicine. That site can handle up to 500 tests a day.

Between the two new sites and three other sites in Markham, Bloomington and Harwood Heights, the state will be able to run an additional 2,900 tests per day, Pritzker said.

Illinois residents remain under a stay-at-home order which expires on April 30, but an extension appears imminent.

For days, Pritzker has hinted at “adjustments” that will be made to the current order. He’s also fielded several regional questions from reporters wondering why the state’s rural regions are being treated the same way as Chicago.

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“I think it’s widely understood that the things that you need in order to open the economy are things that we don’t quite yet have in place, nor does any state,” Pritzker said. “Some states are reopening anyway. That’s their choice. I think people might get sick. Many people might get sick as a result of that.”

The governor said he’s focusing on testing, tracing and treating, as well as the state’s supply of personal protective equipment.

“Those are the three things that we have to work on. We’re not there yet,” Pritzker said. “We’ve talked a lot about testing. We’re just not there yet.”

Pritzker has repeatedly been questioned about the models the state is using to anticipate hospital needs, as well as case and death counts. The models are not accessible to the public.

Pritzker said he’s relied on experts at the state’s universities, including Northwestern and University of Chicago, among others.

“I look at all of those and listen to those experts because I think one of the things that maybe isn’t widely understood as these models are they change literally every day,” Pritzker said. “...It’s nothing exact about these models and it’s really important for people to understand that I’m estimating. We all are. Even the modelers are estimating and the purpose for the estimating isn’t so much that we know exactly what date, some date, at which we might peak. That’s not the purpose of the models. The purpose of the models, from my perspective, is to understand what the capacity needs will be for us in our hospitals, among our healthcare workers to treat people who might get COVID-19 on those dates.”