CHICAGO (CBS) — The number of confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in Illinois has nearly skyrocketed this week, as public health officials announced 163 new cases on Friday, including the state’s fifth death, a Cook County woman in her 70s.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said there have been a total of 585 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Illinois since the start of the outbreak, up from 105 on Monday, and just 46 one week ago.
Officials have said the spike in cases is due in large part to increased testing for the virus. The state is now testing about 1,000 people per day, compared to only 200 per day when it started tests last month. However, they acknowledge the disease itself is also continuing to spread.
Ezike said the state plans to COVID-19 expand testing in the days and weeks ahead to figure out how to detect and treat the virus more efficiently and effectively.
“As the number of COVID-19 cases being reported continues to rise every single day, the state of Illinois is working to increase testing capacity by working with Illinois hospitals to implement testing within their facilities. We want to strengthen the testing capacity in Illinois by helping hospitals and laboratories to develop their own testing ability, and we expect to have these tests available within the health care system within the next few weeks,” she said.
The state is also working to expand hospital capacity across Illinois, in hopes of preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients as the virus spreads.
The Pritzker administration also is working with local governments and businesses to possibly reopen some recently shuttered hospitals to increase the number of available beds, and serve as possible overflow sites.
On Thursday, a private developer purchased the old MetroSouth Medical Center building in Blue Island, one of the sites the state had been eyeing for potential overflow. The Illinois Hospital Association has told CBS 2 it was in communication with Gov. JB Pritzker’s office and the state about using a closed hospital, including potentially MetroSouth Medical Center, which closed in 2019, and former Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park. But none were confirmed at that time.
Pritzker said he is also looking at the possibility of building field hospitals.
It’s unclear how much the developer spent to purchase the Blue Island property or how it will utilize the space.
Ezike said the state also is working with the federal government, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart to set up drive-through testing sites in the areas hit hardest by COVID-19. She said those sites will focus on administering tests to those who need them most — seniors, first responders, and healthcare workers.
The state also is working to expand tele-medicine options so people with mild symptoms of the virus can talk with healthcare providers on the phone before deciding whether they need to visit a hospital or clinic.