Gov. JB Pritzker renewed his call for retired and former health care workers to join the fight against coronavirus as the state recorded 42 new deaths Wednesday. Three of those individuals were in their 20s or 30s.
Illinois health officials announced 986 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, bringing the state's total to 6,980.
"The coming weeks are going to get more and more difficult as the number of cases and deaths continue to rise, but I'm not urging people to despair," Illinois Department of Public Health Dr. Ngozi Ezike said.
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Dr. Ezike said she isn't simply talking about statistics.
"We all understand that these deaths represent people's mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers and children and co-workers and neighbors and teachers," Dr. Ezike said.
In the face of tragedy, officials are urging vigilance in renewing their commitment to stay at home and to wash their hands.
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issuing guidance this week that people can transmit the virus 24 to 48 hours before showing symptoms, officials were asked about whether people should be wearing masks.
"I would not discourage people from wearing masks," Gov. Pritzker said. "In fact, I think that there's some evidence to show it can be effective. Are we thinking of changing policy? Again, we're evaluating these things every day."
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With the extension of Illinois' "stay-at-home" order creating financial hardship, the governor has banned evictions of renters. But he punted on a question about property tax relief for landlords.
"These are functions of local governments and county governments," Gov. Pritzker said. "State does not collect property taxes, and those decisions get made by local governments, county governments."
Illinois' "stay-at-home" order is extended until at least April 30, the governor announced Tuesday.
It's still unclear when COVID-19 cases will peak, but health officials in the state have concluded that lifting the stay at home order next week could have catastrophic consequences.
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The extension means that all Illinois schools will remain closed and districts will be transitioning to remote learning. Those days will count towards school and will not need to be made up.
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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. Pritzker announced a $4 million grant program for artists and institutions on Wednesday. An estimated 77,000 people who work in the industry in Illinois have been hit hard by the "stay-at-home" order that shut down theaters and galleries.
The founder of Black Ensemble Theater had to cancel two six-week plays, costing her an estimated $700,000.
"To get support of anything is is absolutely fundamental, especially since the theaters and the cultural industry is devastated," said Jackie Taylor.
But despite the hard times, Taylor and others said they'll get through this.
"We will not stop making, creating, inspiring, challenging, bearing witness, and bringing hope," said artist Amanda Williams. "In fact, that's all we know to do in these moments."
More information on the grant program is available here: https://artsforillinois.org/.
The governor also said Wednesday that the state is exploring options to enlist the help of medical and nursing students.
The Illinois National Guard said Wednesday that Gov. Pritzker also activated about 30 of its medics.
The Illinois National Guard medics will provide medical support at the Stateville Correctional Center, where an inmate who had COVID-19 died earlier this week. They'll perform screenings at the prison, including checking vitals, blood pressure and temperatures.
Meanwhile, Lightfoot said the first phase of transforming McCormick Place into an auxiliary medical center is progressing on schedule with beds and staff. But the facility won't be ready for patients on Friday, she said.
Pritzker said just 41% of the state's adult ICU beds are empty and 68% of the state's ventilators are available as of March 30. Pritzker added that 35% of the state's ICU beds are and 24% of the state's ventilators are now occupied by COVID patients.
"From all the modeling that we've seen, the greatest risk of hitting capacity isn't right now, but weeks from now," Pritzker said.
Health officials also announced that there is some evidence to show that people infected with the virus can be contagious for 24 to 48 hours before showing any symptoms.
The Cook County Medical Examiner's Office said late Wednesday that it's working to expand its storage capacity, including looking for a separate warehouse.
"The Cook County Medical Examiner's Office is increasing refrigerated storage capacity to ensure we are prepared for any eventuality during the COVID-19 pandemic," a spokesperson said. "While we hope we do not need to use the additional facility, we have the responsibility to provide adequate space for all decedents under our jurisdiction to ensure they are treated with dignity."
Governor Pritzker has called for licensed health care providers available to fight against COVID-19 to register online at illinoishelps.net.
The Illinois Department of Public Health has created a hotline at 1-800-889-3931. More information can be found at the IDPH website and the Chicago Department of Public Health website.