Record COVID-19 case count, but McCormick field hospital to be scaled down as Pritzker says state has ‘bent the curve’

The state received more than 14,000 test results on Thursday, bringing the tally of tests performed to more than 284,000, according to the Illinois Dept. of Public Health.

SHARE Record COVID-19 case count, but McCormick field hospital to be scaled down as Pritzker says state has ‘bent the curve’
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a March 10 news briefing.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at a March 10 news briefing.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Even as officials announced a record-high daily count of 3,137 newly confirmed coronavirus cases, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday said the McCormick Place alternate care facility will be largely dismantled.

The field hospital that initially was built to fit 3,000 patients had already been scaled down to take care of 1,000. But a joint statement from the mayor and governor announced “the curve is flattening,” and said the facility is no longer needed.

The facility was built up quickly — one unit in just a week —by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Illinois National Guard, FEMA and union trades.

Patients already there will continue to receive care until they recover, and a unit with negative pressure tents will remain in place as the city and state monitor hospital capacity, officials said. Six patients were still at the facility as of Friday evening, according to the governor’s office.

Earlier at his daily briefing, Pritzker said the state has “bent the curve.”

“That’s what happened with the stay-at-home. It’s not an accident here, that the number of deaths that was expected is many fewer. That the number of ICU beds are so many fewer. Ventilators, many fewer needed,” Pritzker said. “It’s not an accident. It’s not that this virus has gone away. It’s because people are adhering to the norms that we’ve put out there.”

The governor said there’s a need for people to understand that the reason the curve has bent is because mitigation efforts are working.

“Guess what happens in the absence of mitigation efforts? The rate of infection goes up again. The R-naught [the average number of people contract a disease from another person], as we’ve called it, goes up. The number of ventilators, ICU beds and hospitalizations goes up,” Pritzker said.

As protesters circled public buildings in downtown Chicago and Springfield decrying Pritzker’s latest stay-at-home order and as the governor sees legal challenges from two Republican lawmakers, Pritzker acknowledged some regions of Illinois could open prior to May 30, when his latest executive order is set to expire.

“We absolutely are looking at all of the hospitalization numbers. Remember it has to do with how many hospital beds are available if there’s a surge,” Pritzker said of potential regional reopenings. “Yes, if it’s heading down the other side of this slide... then absolutely.”

Pritzker has often referred to White House reopening guidelines which advise for reopening in phases after 14 days of downward trend of documented cases or positive cases.

“But I also want to say that I’m not going to do it until we know people are safe and it isn’t going to be because some protester has a sign that says ‘Liberate Illinois,’” Pritzker said.

In addition to the daily confirmed cases, officials said another 105 people died from COVID-19. The deaths raised Illinois’ coronavirus toll to 2,457 while with the new cases, the state has seen 56,055 people test positive for the virus. The state received more than 14,000 test results on Thursday, bringing the tally of tests performed to more than 284,000, according to the Illinois Dept. of Public Health.

The virus has been confirmed in 97 of the state’s 102 counties.

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Ventilator use by COVID-19 patients decreased by 8 patients within a 24-hour span, although the deaths recorded on Friday could account for that decrease, Pritzker’s office said.

The number of coronavirus patients in the state’s hospital was also down by 53 patients, and the number of patients in the ICU was down by 26 patients.

The governor also outlined the state’s plan to conduct contact tracing, as he has said the key to reopening the state is more testing and tracing to reduce the spread rate and to halt outbreaks before they happen. The CDC has recommended the tracing and monitoring of contacts of infected people.

Dr. Wayne Duffus, a former epidemic officer for the CDC, is the new acting chief of epidemiology for the state, who will oversee the Illinois’ tracing program.

That includes the process of following up with contacts who may have been exposed to a person with a suspected or confirmed infection.” For privacy purposes, people will not be told the identity of the patient who might have exposed them.

Duffus said the state will use 30 workers for every 100,000 people, which amounts to about 3,810 people. Duffus said it’s reasonable to begin with about 10% of that figure, and not all workers will be continuously working as the infection slows. That will include both volunteers and paid workers, according to Pritzker, who said the program could cost around $80 million.

First, case investigators will reach out to people who tested positive. A second group of people will reach out to individuals with close contact with a diagnosed case, and a third category will be “resource coordinators,” tasked with making sure people are quarantined or isolated with resources and support, such as food, medication and alternate housing.

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