146 more Illinois coronavirus deaths, but state should ‘be optimistic’ for next stage of reopening, Pritzker says

Tuesday’s figure ended a three-day streak with daily COVID-19 death counts below 100. But the entire state, including Chicago, is poised to advance to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s next reopening stage at the end of the month.

SHARE 146 more Illinois coronavirus deaths, but state should ‘be optimistic’ for next stage of reopening, Pritzker says
A technician handles a blood sample to test for COVID-19 at a Harwood Heights facility on April 22.

A technician handles a blood sample to test for COVID-19 at a Harwood Heights facility on April 22.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

Another 146 people have died of COVID-19 in Illinois, health officials announced Tuesday, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the entire state is on track to see more restrictions lifted come May 29 with the expiration of his stay-at-home order.

Illinois had recorded three straight days of fewer than 100 coronavirus deaths each, but the latest figures raised the state’s death toll to 4,379. Almost half of those — 2,057 deaths — have occurred in May alone.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike also reported 1,545 new cases, bringing the state’s total infections to 98,030.

But with the clock ticking on the governor’s extended stay-at-home order — and with many Illinoisans itching to see more businesses reopen — Pritzker said residents should “be optimistic about 10 days from now.”

“Haircuts and manufacturing and offices and warehousing and lots of industries and jobs coming back online,” the Democratic governor said. “And frankly, I think everybody’s pretty excited about that.”

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With his current order facing several federal court challenges, Pritzker again defended his reopening plan in part by taking aim at President Donald Trump’s “patchwork of different requirements from state to state.”

“There should have been a national plan. In fact, there was real potential in mid-April. The president unveiled the White House guidance for reopening with explicit public health factors weighed into the mix. Under the president’s own plan, Illinois would not reach the next phase until after our current Illinois plan has begun Phase 3,” Pritzker said. “But President Trump decided to inject politics in, where science and data should have gone out, leaving the states to create a patchwork that exists today.”

But Pritzker is also facing the scorn of many Republican state legislators who feel they had no input in his five-phase reopening plan. The governor said his team has operated “with a focus on public health and transparent, measurable benchmarks to move to each new phase.”

Those include a coronavirus testing positivity rate of under 20% for 14 days, and stable or decreasing metrics such as intensive care unit use, hospital admission and ventilator use. All are on the decline for all four regions in Pritzker’s plan, including the hardest hit Northeast region that includes Chicago.

Tuesday marked the sixth straight day the Northeast region hit the benchmarks. The other three regions have been hitting them since Pritzker announced his reopening plan on May 5. But even those that hit the marks must still wait until May 29 to move to the next phase.

“Some people don’t want to hear anymore that this is about keeping people safe, but it is,” Pritzker says. “And we’re doing everything we can to open up the economy and do it safely and you’ve seen a full plan.”

Ezike, said a drop in hospital admissions across the state is evidence Pritzker’s plan has worked.

“This is good news. This just solidifies these measures have been working, both the stay-at-home, both the masking, both the social distancing. All of those things are affected and that’s why we’re got numbers that are improving,” Ezike said.

Dr. Emily Landon, a University of Chicago epidemiologist, encouraged all Illinoisans to continue to wear face coverings or masks. She called it “our lifeline.” and she said soon, “it will be as natural as wearing pants, which most of us are pretty good about.”

“We need masks. We need hand hygiene and we need distance to make this work, Landon said. “And we do need to be all in, in order to be successful.”

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