Illinois health officials announced on Sunday 31 new deaths related to COVID-19, including a second inmate at Stateville Correctional Center, bringing the statewide death toll from the virus to 274.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike — donning protective face masks that they removed before speaking — also announced the latest deaths during their Sunday coronavirus update.
They also announced 899 new cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, marking 11,256 confirmed cases in 70 of Illinois’ 102 counties since the pandemic first hit.
“Among those lost is a second individual from the outbreak at Stateville Prison,” Ezike said, adding that there are 60 positive cases of the virus at the congregate care facility where the inmate was treated.
“These numbers represent people. They represent our fellow Illinoisans,” Ezike said. “We should continue to do our best and keep everyone safe by staying home, washing our hands and physically distancing.”
That inmate, 66-year-old Ronald Rice, was being treated at Morris Hospital when he succumbed to the disease, according to the Grundy County coroner’s office.
Rice began a 60-year sentence at Stateville in 1982 after being convicted of kidnapping and sexually assaulting an 11-year-old boy in Calumet City. While serving that sentence, Rice got 80 more years when he pleaded guilty in 2010 to molesting and killing another 11-year-old boy in Oak Forest nearly three decades earlier. He had previously served six months in connection with the same case after telling authorities in 1980 he struck the boy with his car and hid the body.
Ezike acknowledged that the state’s coronavirus outbreak has highlighted racial disparities in health care that exist, with African Americans making up about 30% of COVID-19 cases in Chicago.
“Even before this pandemic, we have worked tirelessly to address the health disparities that exist among our black and brown communities, and that work will continue both now and long after this pandemic has been conquered,” Ezike said.
Pritzker said the state is working to reopen the shuttered MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island and Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park, which he said primarily serve communities of color.
“It’s a much broader problem than that. It’s hard to make up for decades, maybe centuries, of inequality of application of healthcare to people of color,” Pritzker said.
Also over the weekend, two major retailers announced that workers in the Chicago area had fallen victim to the virus.
Walmart confirmed Saturday that two employees at a store in Evergreen Park died after contracting COVID-19. A day later, Target announced that two Chicago employees tested positive for the coronavirus — one employed at the South Loop location, 1154 S. Clark, and another that works at the Near North Side store, 2656 N. Elston.
As the coronavirus death toll continues to mount in Illinois and beyond, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams offered a stark warning on Sunday morning, saying, “this is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives.”
“This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams said during an appearance on Fox News.
In the face of that dire outlook, Pritzker slammed President Donald Trump’s management of the Strategic National Stockpile during an appearance Sunday morning on CNN. Both Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, maintain that states have no priority access to desperately needed supplies, including ventilators needed to keep coronavirus patients breathing.
Pritzker repeated his remarks later Sunday during his daily coronavirus briefing, saying the president “does not understand the word federal.”
“The idea that the United States federal government did nearly nothing for quite a long time is now being visited upon us,” Pritzker added. “If action had been taken earlier, a lot fewer lives would be lost.”
A report Sunday by the Associated Press detailing federal purchasing contracts found that the Trump administration disregarded warnings about the impending health crisis for months. It wasn’t until mid-March that federal agencies started placing bulk orders of N95 respirators masks, ventilators and other equipment needed by front-line health care workers, the investigation found.
“They had this information before the states did and should have been out there exercising the Defense Production Act, and acquiring PPE and ventilators,” Pritzker said.
During Sunday’s appearance on CNN, Pritzker also disagreed with Trump’s prediction that the NFL season would kick off on time.
On Saturday, Trump held a teleconference with the commissioners of the major sports leagues and reportedly said he wanted the football season to start in September as scheduled. Asked Sunday whether the Bears will be playing by then, Pritzker said that will likely hinge on the development of a treatment that could “allow us to begin to open things up in the way that the president is describing.”
“And no one really knows if we’ll have it by September,” Pritzker said. “What we do know is that if you have a vaccine, that ultimately will help us deal with the problem, because it’s either going to be a treatment and herd immunity that ultimately allows us to open everything back up, or it’s a vaccine.”