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Illinois records 73 new coronavirus deaths, highest spike since pandemic began

More than 13,500 people have now tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic hit the state.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a briefing last year. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Illinois officials on Tuesday said another 73 people have died from the coronavirus, marking the highest single-day death count the state has experienced since the outbreak began.

There were also another 1,287 confirmed cases, with the virus spreading to 77 of the state’s 102 counties. There have been 380 total deaths in Illinois due to COVID-19 among 13,549 diagnoses overall.

That includes a member of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office who tested positive for the coronavirus after being in isolation since March 26, the governor said. Pritzker has not been tested for coronavirus, and he said he did not have direct contact with the employee, who is recovering well.

But the state’s health care system is still within its capacity, including for ventilators and intensive care unit beds, Pritzker said. About 43% of Illinois hospital beds were available Tuesday, with 3,680 patients with coronavirus or suspected cases being hospitalized.

Of 2,709 total intensive care unit beds in the state, 1,166 are being used by COVID-19 patients, with 35% of ICU beds still available. Pritzker said 57% of the state’s total ventilators are available, a drop from last week when 68% were available.

Pritzker — who has been very public about his push for the federal government to send the state more medical supplies — thanked them for sending 600 ventilators, which includes 300 specifically for Chicago, where just 24.7% of ICU beds are available.

Asked about President Donald Trump’s comments suggesting Pritzker is happy with the federal response on private calls but telling the press a different story, the governor said: “I am happy when they make promises and then deliver upon those promises. I am unhappy when they do not deliver on promises or when lies are spoken.”

Pritzker also thanked California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who sent 100 ventilators to Illinois overnight.

“It is truly incredible to work with elected officials across the nation who are providing true leadership,” Pritzker said. “Once we are past our peak, Illinois will pay in full. We will pay it forward in any way that we can, including passing along those ventilators to the next hotspot in the nation in any that we may be able to spare.”

The administration on Monday said there were 54 more people placed on ventilators due to COVID-19 from Friday to Monday.

While Pritzker has said he is using a number of projections to anticipate when the state will reach its peak, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has projected Illinois will see its peak death rate on April 12.

The state is grappling with an outbreak at the Cook County Jail, where as of Tuesday morning 355 confirmed cases have been traced back to the jail, which also was identified by the New York Times as a key hotspot in the outbreak. Travel within the U.S. was determined to be responsible for 187 positive COVID-19 cases, and travel overseas was the third leading point of origin, responsible for 178 cases.

And at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, the Illinois Dept. of Corrections says 95 inmates have tested positive. Two have already died.

Pritzker said more than 60 inmates have been released from the Illinois Dept. of Juvenile Justice. And 1,100 low-risk inmates have been released from the Illinois Dept. of Corrections.

Pritzker has signed an executive order to allow the department to allow medically vulnerable inmates out of prison temporarily for as long as the governor’s disaster proclamation is in effect.

The governor was asked if he had any regrets about his response to the pandemic.

“Every day I ask myself about each decision that I make. Is there another choice here? Or did I miss something?” Pritzker said. “...I wish I knew about this in January when the intelligence agencies seemed to know about it. And we would have begun building ventilators ourselves.”