CHICAGO (CBS) — A day after Illinois reported more than 1,100 new cases of COVID-19, the governor’s office said 465 additional cases have been confirmed, including eight more deaths.
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said the state now has a total of 5,057 cases, including 73 deaths, in 52 counties.
“The truth is, the number of cases will continue to increase, unfortunately, as will the deaths. The cases that I report do not capture all of the people in Illinois with COVID-19. Many of you know that you may have been ill, but didn’t have a test to confirm it. We know that we’re not testing everyone,” she said.
The latest deaths include an inmate at Stateville Correctional Center. A total of 12 men incarcerated at the prison are now hospitalized, including several inmates now on ventilators. Another 77 inmates with coronavirus symptoms are being isolated within the prison, according to Ezike. Eleven staff with symptoms also are being isolated.
“Congregate settings, such as Stateville, any other correctional center, pose unique challenges in stopping the spread of disease, and protecting the health of individuals who live and work there,” Ezike said. “Those who are incarcerated obviously live and work and eat and study and recreate all within that same environment, heightening the potential for COVID-19 to spread really quickly once it’s introduced. The options for isolation of COVID-19 cases are limited in this focused setting, and becomes very difficult depending on the size of the facility and the population that’s already in the facility.”
As for Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the number of cases in the city is doubling approximately every three to four days.
“Think about that for a moment. We are doing everything in our power to keep that from happening, in terms of this escalating beyond our ability to manage it, but we will only succeed if everyone acts responsibly, and abides by the governor’s stay at home order,” she said. “As I have said, and it’s true, staying home saves lives. As I mentioned last week, if we don’t, in the city of Chicago alone, we’re looking at upwards of 40,000 hospitalizations; not cases, hospitalizations.”
The mayor said the city’s capacity to treat coronavirus patients currently remains well ahead of demand, “but it’s truly a race against time, and we have nothing to waste.”
Asked why the state has not been reporting the number of COVID-19 patients who have recovered, Pritzker said that’s a more difficult figure to track.
“Think about yourself. If you got the flu, and if you maybe saw your doctor, and then you went home, and you were at home, and you were recovered, you don’t call your doctor at the end of your recovery and say ‘I’m recovered now,’” he said. “Collecting that information from people who go home, have COVID-19, once they’re done, is somewhat more difficult than you might imagine.”
“We do know there are quite a number of people who have had it who have recovered,” he added.
Meantime, the governor said that the state and the Army Corps of Engineers expect to begin outfitting McCormick Place as a field hospital this week. The Army Corps of Engineers got a $15 million contract to build out a field hospital at the convention center with 3,000 hospital beds in the event COVID-19 continues to spread.
Officials said the first 500 beds should be installed there this week, another 500 should be installed by next week, another 1,250 should be installed by the week of April 20, and the final 750 acute care beds should be installed by the end of the month.
Security told CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey the McCormick Place campus has been shut down for the installation of the beds.
“The use of McCormick Place signals a new phase in our citywide response to the COVID-19 crisis, as we expect to experience a peak in cases in the coming weeks. This surge capacity fits within the plan that we have described over the past few weeks, which includes quarantine and isolation space, beds for vulnerable populations, and providing supplies to help coworkers,” the mayor said.
Pritzker said McCormick Place mostly will be dedicated to the treatment of non-acute COVID-19 cases, people who likely won’t need a formal intensive care unit.
“This is an evolving situation and if our experts determine down the line that McCormick Place should be shifted to a different set of criteria, we will shift our mission to follow the medical experts’ best advice,” the governor said.
The governor also has activated an additional 115 National Guard soldiers and airmen statewide to assist with coronavirus response. Approximately 80 of those National Guard members will help with communication between the state and local health departments, and another 30 will help with setting up the field hospital at McCormick Place.
A total of about 380 Illinois National Guard members now are supporting the state’s COVID-19 response.
Pritzker said, while some hospitals in Illinois already are treating many coronavirus patients, some are still being under-utilized, so COVID-19 patients will first be directed to existing hospitals before being sent to overflow sites like McCormick Place.
“If we never have to go beyond our existing facilities, we will all be extremely happy, but since we can’t guarantee that, and in fact we don’t have the data yet to suggest otherwise, we’re actively building out capacity,” he said.
Pritzker said the state also is working with the Army Corps of Engineers on other alternate COVID-19 treatment sites at the former Advocate Sherman Hospital campus in Elgin and at the former MetroSouth Medical Center building in Blue Island.
As for the governor’s statewide “stay at home” order and mandate for all Illinois schools to be closed through April 7, the governor said his staff is constantly evaluating whether those orders will be extended.
“I’ll let you know as soon as that order will change,” he said. “We just don’t know. There’s so much we don’t know, and we’re trying to evaluate everything every day. There’s really new information coming in every day, and so I would say it is something that we have to consider; whether to extend, and if we did, how long.”
Pritzker also said, with the federal government still supplying only a fraction of the medical equipment Illinois has requested, the state is relying mostly on the open market to get the supplies it needs. The governor said, by the end of the week, Illinois expects to receive a total of 5.5 million N95 masks and 5.55 million surgical masks from state contracts. He said the state is expecting another 500,000 KN95 masks, 10,000 infrared thermometers, and 4 million surgical masks shortly after that.
The state’s stockpile of personal protective equipment is being used to help provide supplies to hospitals and local public health agencies. To date, Pritzker said the state has sent PPE shipments to 96 local health departments, and 155 hospitals across the state.