CHICAGO (CBS) — As Illinois’ stay-at-order continues through the end of May, more sobering numbers were released on COVID-19 cases in the state, as the number of people confirmed with the coronavirus hit the 3,000 mark.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike of the Illinois Department of Health confirmed there were 3,137 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the state and another 105 deaths related to COVID-19. This brings the total number of cases at more than 56,000 across the state.
While Governor JB Pritzker has stressed the need to get more testing available in the state, on Friday Pritzker emphasized the need to speed up contact tracing to find more people who may have exposed and to get them tested for the coronavirus.
“In the context of a very infectious virus, this is our primary tool for identifying potential asymptomatic spreaders. That way, they can self isolate quickly and slow the spread of the virus,” Pritzker said. “It will say to their contacts, keeping more people COVID-free for longer. The last factor is key because it demonstrates why contact tracing is so important to all.”
But contact tracing is more complicated than just calling confirmed cases and finding out who they’ve been around. Dr. Wayne Duffus, an infectious disease specialist, said many different people will be need to contact trace in Illinois.
“They do not all have to be hired all at once and so the numbers speak to the total overtime. It is also very reasonable to start with the national numbers, say 10% of that total, say 300 workers but they are strategically placed in the regions that are most impacted,” said Duffus. “By deploying technology as a first-contact with individuals, the number of workers needed will be fewer. We plan to implement a virtual call center which will enhance efficiencies at all in the most hard-to-reach individuals who will actually acquire a visit.”
Training the coronavirus contact tracers will depend on the skill level of the individual, Duffus said. Pritzker said the cost would roughly be $40 based on what was done similarly in Massachusetts with half that amount. The goal is to get started with contact tracers by the end of May.
While Friday began as the first day of the extended staty-at-home order, Pritzker issued an extended stay-at-home order Thursday night that expands the list of “essential activities” for which people are allowed to leave their homes, to allow them “to engage in the free exercise of religion.”
Demonstrators gathered in front of the Thompson Center Friday to criticize Pritzker’s restrictions. But the governor said it was their right to protest.
“There are a few hundred protesters today for both here and in Springfield and they are exercising their right to free speech,” Pritzker acknowledged. “And I will defend to the death their right to exercise that right, even when they are wrong.”
He added that he can foresee an easing of restrictions and closures but that time hasn’t arrived.
“I want as much as everybody else does for everybody to get back to work to move toward normalcy,” Pritzker said. “But I also want to say that I’m not going to do it until we know people are safe and it isn’t going to be because some protester has a sign that says “liberate Illinois.”
Religious gatherings would still have a limit of no more than 10 people, and they would have to wear face coverings or stay more than six feet away from each other.
Pritzker issued his initial order on March 21 as COVID-19 cases in Illinois were swelling. It was extended once after April 8 and last week, through May 30. But the latest version allows nonessential businesses to take phone and online orders, opens state parks and allows some delayed elective surgeries.
Nonetheless, “liberty rallies” seeking even fewer restrictions were held Friday at the Capitol in Springfield and the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago where Pritzker has an office.
Governor @JBPritzker on the plans to open up the state- and the possibility of doing it on a local level:
— Marissa Parra (@MarParNews) May 1, 2020
This is a developing story. The Associated Press contributed to this story.