CHICAGO (CBS) — Illinois is nearing 18,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with more than 1,400 new cases in the past day, including 68 more deaths.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Illinois now has 17,887 confirmed cases in 83 counties, and 596 total deaths. She said that includes “alarmingly high rates of COVID-19 in the black population.”

According to Ezike, coronavirus mortality rates among blacks are five times higher than whites, and the disparity is even higher among older age groups. For those in their 50s, the mortality rate is 12 times higher for blacks than for whites, for those in their 60s, the rate is eight times higher for blacks, and for those in their 70s, the rate is 10 times higher for African Americans.

Ezike said preexisting health conditions that make people more vulnerable to COVID-19 — such as heart disease, diabetes, and asthma — are more common among African Americans.

“Health disparities and inequalities are major concerns to me as the public health director, and I’ve always encouraged our agency to use a health equity lens in every aspect of the work we do,” Ezike said.

Gov. JB Pritzker said, in an effort to improve testing for the novel coronavirus in the black community, the state has set up a partnership with four community health centers on the South and West sides of Chicago, and three others in the Metro East area near St. Louis.

The health centers in Chicago — Lawndale Christian Health Center, PCC Community Wellness Center, Chicago Family Health Center and Friend Family Health Center — will take specimens from 400 people per day to send to Lurie Children’s Hospital for COVID-19 testing. Three locations of the Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation system in Metro East will take a total of 470 specimens per day for testing at Anderson Hospital in Madison County.

The state also will open a new drive-thru COVID-19 testing center next week in the south suburbs, near Markham and Harvey. The site will run hundreds of tests per day.

“For months, years, and even decades after we defeat this pandemic, we will surely look back and examine the biological and medical questions about this virus, but beyond that we need to examine what Americans learned about ourselves,” Pritzker said. “Generations of systemic disadvantages in healthcare delivery and in healthcare access in communities of color, and black communities in particular, are now amplified in this crisis.”

The state is also preparing to open 2,000 hotel rooms outside of Chicago to provide alternate housing in the suburbs and downstate for people who test positive but have low-level symptoms and don’t need hospital care, or have been exposed to COVID-19 positive person and might need to move out of their home as a precaution to avoid infecting family or roommates.

The hotels — located in Springfield, Rockford, Metro East, Quad Cities, Schaumburg, Mount Vernon, Peoria, Carbondale, Quincy, Marion, Macomb, Champaign, collar counties — will be ready to be activated next week, based on individual counties’ needs, according to the governor.

Several hotels in Chicago already have opened up space for people with minor COVID-19 symptoms, as well as for healthcare workers and first responders who might not want to risk taking the virus home with them.

Pritzker said the federal government also has approved a request to use the Veterans Affairs hospital system to support COVID-19 patients as medically necessary.