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Record testing, record case count — but Pritzker concedes even 16,124 tests in a day ‘isn’t enough’

With 108 new deaths, the state has lost 1,795 to COVID-19. There were also 2,724 new positive cases reported, but the state received 16,124 test results back on Thursday — a record-high for the state’s testing capacity, according to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at an April 23 news briefing.
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a Thursday news briefing.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Another 108 people have died from the coronavirus in Illinois, officials said Friday, as the state recorded both the highest number of new cases and highest number of test results.

The deaths raised Illinois’ COVID-19 toll to 1,795, while another 2,724 people tested positive for the virus, more new cases than in any other single day so far. But the new daily high is mostly because the state received 16,124 test results Thursday — a record high for the state’s testing capacity, and one that finally surpassed Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stated goal of running 10,000 tests per day.

In all, there have been 39,658 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Illinois, with nearly 190,000 tests administered.

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Pritzker called his targeted testing rate sustainable.

“My expectation is that we will be able to sustain 10,000 again. It will, like many other things, depend upon how many people go to a testing site on any given day ... and then on the supplies. My expectation is that we’ll be able to maintain this level, my hope and expectation. And of course, this isn’t enough. So the idea here is we’ve got to keep going. And we will.”

But Pritzker acknowledged the path to getting the record-high testing number was difficult, and will continue to be for many of the nation’s governors.

“The challenges in the supply chain in order to get us to 10,000 were immense. Indeed, this was raised on a call that we had today with the White House task force. Everybody needs to, wants to expand,” Pritzker said. “I heard one of the governors saying they have 4,000 tests a day, and they’re having trouble expanding from that to 6,000 a day. So everybody’s having trouble.”

Pritzker said Friday’s testing showed a 17% positive rate, which is below the state’s cumulative average of 21% positive cases.

“It’s too early to say whether this is a result of expanded testing criteria, versus an indicator of flattening this curve,” Pritzker said. “But it’s a positive sign nonetheless for everyone when more people are getting tested, and there is a lower ratio of positives.”

The governor has for weeks stressed that the more tests, the better chance those people can isolate and avoid spreading the virus to lower the overall infection rate. The goal is to increase testing to map out the presence of the virus “and to gradually reduce our mitigation measures and get more people back to work,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker credited the testing surge to many measures, including partnerships with universities, hospitals and commercial laboratories, as well as five drive-thru testing locations.

The state now has 112 free public testing sites, including 22 in Chicago and 27 in the suburbs. Private health care providers are also running tests.

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And while states and countries are exploring antibody tests to further understand the virus, Pritzker said he’s not yet on board.

“I’m afraid we’ve seen many of these tests promoted in a way that errs on the side of irresponsible. To be clear, these tests are not quite where we need them to be to offer a true metric of immunity in Illinois,” Pritzker said. “This is not an Illinois-specific problem. As of today, there still are no antibody blood tests certifiably proven to accurately and consistently diagnose COVID-19 antibodies.”

But he vowed, “as soon as they prove themselves accurate and reliable, I will make it a priority to get them into our communities as widely as we can.”

Pritzker’s office said hospitalization numbers remain level, a key indicator that the virus’s spread may be slowing. The number of deaths, however, indicates the state is experiencing its peak in terms of fatalities, officials have said.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said 4,828 people are hospitalized due to COVID-19, with 1,225 in the ICU and 709 of those patients on ventilators.

Asked about President Donald Trump’s suggestion that injecting disinfectants might help kill the virus (Trump later backtracked, saying he was being “sarcastic”), Pritzker called his comments “dangerous.”

“He clearly was not making any facial expressions or any discussion that would make it sound as if he was joking in any way, and I think, all I can say is, I hope to God that nobody listened to him yesterday,” Pritzker said.