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87 more Illinois coronavirus deaths as state unemployment tops 16%

More than 1.2 million people have filed for unemployment benefits since the beginning of March. More than 4,600 people have died of the coronavirus in Illinois over that time, too.

Workers collect coronavirus test samples at a drive-thru testing site Monday at Dr. Jorge Prieto Math and Science Academy on the Northwest Side.
Workers collect coronavirus test samples at a drive-thru testing site Monday at Dr. Jorge Prieto Math and Science Academy on the Northwest Side.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

State health officials on Thursday announced 87 more people have died of the coronavirus in Illinois while an additional 2,268 tested positive for the virus.

That raised the state’s death toll to 4,607 and the overall statewide case tally to 102,686 since the virus first hit Illinois four months ago.

The state received 29,307 test results from a day earlier, setting a new record high that Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said will continue to be key as all four regions of the state are poised to enter the third phase of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan when the stay-at-home order expires May 29.

“We have been talking about this novel coronavirus for months now, and we have learned a lot, but there are still unanswered questions,” Ezike said. “We have learned that people infected with the virus can spread it to others, even a few days before they start feeling sick. There are instances where people do not have any symptoms, or the symptoms are so mild that the person may not seek or need health care. However, a person who is asymptomatic can potentially still spread the virus, which is why testing is so important.”

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Chicago’s Northeast region again met the testing and hospitalization thresholds for an eighth straight day to advance to the next reopening stage, with Pritzker saying it’s all but guaranteed “barring some catastrophic thing that may happen in the next eight days.”

That means bars and restaurants will be able to open to outdoor service at the end of next week — though Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she doesn’t think Chicago will be ready to reopen restaurants by then.

It’s welcome news for business owners and at least some of the 321,000-plus restaurant employees who have been out of work during the two-month shutdown. Other “non-essential” retail businesses are expected to be cleared to reopen with health precautions in place, too.

The latest snapshot of a state economy ground to a halt came from the Illinois Department of Employment Security, which said the state’s unemployment rate has jumped to 16.4%, a record-high for the state since counting methodologies were changed in 1976.

The agency said it processed another 72,780 initial claims last week, and has now taken more than 1.2 million claims for unemployment benefits since the beginning of March. That’s 12 times the load it handled over the same period last year.

The governor called it “a tremendously disturbing problem that everybody in the country is facing.”

Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Maisch called on Pritzker to include the staggering metrics in his reopening plan.

“Over 16% unemployment is its own crisis and the unemployment statistics need to be considered on equal footing with public health metrics,” Maisch said in a statement. “The administration has assembled a team of public health officials charged with bringing down COVID-19 statistics. The administration needs to appoint a team that is every bit as committed to bringing down the unprecedented figure of 16.4% unemployment in Illinois.”

State lawmakers are convening in Springfield this week to consider a COVID-19 relief package and a revised spending plan, among other issues.