Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced plans Thursday to extend his stay-at-home executive order for Illinois residents until the end of May, as the state reported another 123 deaths due to the coronavirus.
That raises the Illinois death toll to 1,688 since the COVID-19 outbreak began. There are also 1,826 new cases, bringing the state’s total count of positive coronavirus cases to 36,934, officials said.
Pritzker highlighted those numbers among the reasons to extend the state’s current stay-at-home order, which was slated to expire April 30.
Next week, Pritzker will sign a modified order effective through May 30 that includes a “phased reopening” of selected state parks, and a requirement for people “to wear a face-covering or a mask when in a public place where they can’t maintain a six-foot social distance,” the governor’s office said.
Additionally, golf courses will be able to open under “strict safety guidelines” set by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, with social distancing measures implemented.
And retail stores that were not listed as “essential businesses” in Pritzker’s first executive order will be able to reopen to take phone or online orders through pickup outside the store or delivery beginning May 1. That’s intended to help small businesses that have been shuttered.
Greenhouses, garden centers and nurseries will also be able to reopen as essential businesses. And certain elective surgeries for non-life-threatening conditions will be able to begin again. The Illinois Department of Public Health is issuing guidelines for surgical centers and hospitals, including proper personal protective equipment requirements and testing of patients to ensure they do not have COVID-19.
“To everyone listening, we are in possibly the most difficult part of this journey,” Pritzker said. “I know how badly we all want our normal lives back. Believe me. If I could make that happen right now I would. But this is the part where we have to dig in and we have to understand that the sacrifices that we’ve made as a state to avoid a worst case scenario are working. And we need to keep going a little while longer to finish the job.”
Pritzker had a message for the state’s doctors and nurses on the front-lines, all essential workers and businesses affected by the pandemic.
“Our small businesses never asked to sacrifice their bottom line to an invisible enemy,” Pritzker said. “I see your pain. And I am so, so very sorry for you. But for every person who wants to go to dinner or hang out with their friends in a park or swing open their salon doors, there is a family mourning the death of someone they love.”
At his daily briefing, Pritzker brought in three experts who outlined the state’s projections for the peak impact of the pandemic, as first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times. Their models suggest Illinois has already reached its peak, but that high level in coronavirus deaths could last “a couple of weeks” and see as many as 150 Illinoisans dying of COVID-19 a day.
“If we discontinue these effective strategies prematurely, there will be a major setback and that will cost us lives,” Rush University Medical Center infectious disease specialist Dr. Toyin Falusi said.
Asked if there would be any loosening of regulations for small groups to gather, Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike warned “the power of exponential growth is still there.”
Pritzker said the answer is no: “The virus is still out there. If you are no longer obeying the recommendations that have been made and the orders that have been put in place, you’re simply opening up everybody else up to infection.”
Asked why the rate of deaths and cases continue to increase in Cook County, Ezike said the virus is preying on people who are older and those with underlying conditions.
Of the 123 deaths reported Thursday, 71 were in Cook County, including 9 women in their 70s, 13 men in their 70s and 8 men and women in their 80s. The youngest death reported statewide was a Cook County man in his 20s. In total, there have been 1,142 deaths in Cook County.
“There’s definitely a bias towards communities or areas where there are older people or more infirm people. It’s one of the reasons that we have seen the health disparities across our ethnic groups with the black community bearing a higher burden of this in terms of this disease in terms of mortality,” Ezike said. “Again, the disparities of health in terms of health of communities existed before COVID was here.”
Ezike said that includes “socioeconomic racism” and loss of opportunities for those communities.
“If you had that to start with and then you place COVID on top of that, then you will have a more serious burden of the disease on those communities,” Ezike said.