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130 more Illinois coronavirus deaths as state hits new high for testing

More than 3,200 people have died of the coronavirus in Illinois. The state received 20,671 tests results back on Thursday, the largest number the state has ever received in a day.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks alongside Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a March 19 news briefing.
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks alongside Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a March 19 news briefing.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Officials on Friday said another 130 people have died of COVID-19 in Illinois as the state reached a milestone of receiving more than 20,000 tests results in a single day.

The more testing, the more information health officials have to understand where the virus is spreading, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike have said.

In total, 3,241 people have died of the coronavirus in Illinois, and with 2,887 new cases reported, the state has seen 73,760 people test positive overall. The virus has spread to an additional county — downstate Pope County — and is now in 98 of Illinois’ 102 counties.

The state received 20,671 tests results on Thursday, which is the largest number the state has received in a day. Test results still vary from 24 hours to about four days depending on the lab, Pritzker’s office said.

Illinois now ranks second among the 10 most populous states in the number of tests completed per capita over the last week, according to the governor. The state also ranks fifth nationwide in total tests completed since the beginning of the pandemic.

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The test positivity rate on Friday was 13.96%. Pritzker this week said he is looking at health metrics, such as the positivity rate and hospitalization numbers, to evaluate key steps in reopening the state. The positivity rate must be 20% or lower for 14 days in order for a region to move to the next phase of reopening. The Northeast region, home to Cook, the collar counties, as well as Grundy, Kankakee and Kendall counties, went above 20% three out of the last five days.

All hospital metrics were down slightly from Wednesday to Thursday, according to Pritzker’s office. The total number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU went down by 31; ventilator use was down by 39 patients and the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals dropped 112.

The state now has 244 public testing sites across the state, including the seven state-run drive-thru testing sites in Markham, Bloomington, Harwood Heights, Rockford, Aurora, Waukegan and East St. Louis, which are now collectively taking over 3,000 specimens per day.

Pritzker on Friday said the state will be opening three additional drive-thru testing sites next week. He did not disclose the locations.

Pritzker on Tuesday released a five-part reopening plan. The governor said the state is already in Phase 2 of the five-part plan, meaning the statistical curve of COVID-19 cases is flattening. The governor’s “Restore Illinois” plan divides the state into four regions: Northeast Illinois, North Central Illinois, Central Illinois and Southern Illinois.

Pritzker said some regions will be able to move to Phase 3 — called “recovery” — within weeks, but he warned there would not be any movement until at least May 29, the last day of his current stay-at-home order.

The Illinois Restaurant Association is urging the governor to allow restaurants to open at 25% capacity on June 1 with strict safeguards for their employees. Without changes, Pritzker’s plan would force them to wait until June 28 at the earliest to re-open to dine-in customers.

The governor on Friday said restaurants are more difficult to open compared to small shops because of social distancing difficulties.

“Just the number of people who kind of come in contact with the thing that you’re ultimately getting delivered to you, and they can’t be delivered in a socially distant way is the reason,” Pritzker said.

But the governor said he wants to make sure restaurants find a way to operate once they’re allowed to open.

“We want to make sure that when it does get phased in that there’s a way to do it that doesn’t involve quite so many interactions or that we make sure that we’ve seen the effect of all the other industries that will open,” Pritzker said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday unveiled what she called a “Protecting Chicago framework” to guide the slow but steady reopening of a city economy ground to a halt by the coronavirus.