Coronavirus Illinois deaths surpass 150, cases near 8K as Cook County ME works to expand storage

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Illinois is ramping up efforts to provide alternate care facilities as coronavirus has claimed more than 150 lives in the state.

In Melrose Park, the former Westlake Hospital will soon reopen and house 230 beds during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plans are also underway to turn Chicago's McCormick Place into a makeshift site with 3,000 beds.

"Patients will be directed first to existing hospitals, and if they are lower acuity, they will be transferred to these alternative sites," Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said.

Gov. Pritzker also said Thursday that compliance with the "stay-at-home" order is critical because the state has taken nearly every action to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Pritzker announced a new statewide initiative Thursday, as Illinois' number of confirmed coronavirus cases grew by 715 with 16 additional deaths. The new messaging campaign, called "All In Illinois," calls on all residents to work together to fight the virus.

The initiative enlists the help of Chicago celebrities, including actor Jane Lynch.

"Yes, we're staying inside like all of you to help slow the spread of COVID-19," Lynch said in a video.

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Watch Gov. JB Pritzker's remarks during his daily COVID-19 briefing on April 2, 2020.

Amid a daily drumbeat of tragic news and numbers, officials shared positive data about how people are recovering.

"Seven days after diagnosis, essentially 50% of the people reported that they were recovered," Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said.

"If we were to do 14 days after the diagnosis, you can only imagine that those numbers will only grow," Dr. Ezike added.

There are now 7,695 confirmed cases across Illinois, including 157 deaths.

The death toll continues to rise in Cook County, with word coming that some of the darkest days are still ahead.

Twelve of the new deaths reported Thursday were patients in Cook County.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's office is working to expand its storage capacity. The ME secured a separate refrigerated warehouse to be prepared to handle any increase in bodies it receives due to the pandemic.

"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."

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The governor again criticized the White House Thursday, saying Illinois has had to cut its own deals with airlines and shipping companies to bring personal protective equipment from China after Washington denied his request to help with transport.

"This will go down in history as a profound failure of our national government," Gov. Pritzker said.

On Thursday, Indiana and Michigan joined a number of states who have canceled on-site schooling for the rest of the year. But Pritzker said he's not ready to do the same.

"As we enter a peak period, whenever that may be, sometime we think in the later half of April, and then we start to come off that peak, I think we'll start to be able to make some decisions about what does May look like," Pritzker said.

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Doctor Jason Rho from Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital joined ABC7 to answer questions about coronavirus.

On Wednesday, Gov. JB Pritzker renewed his call for retired and former health care workers to join the fight against coronavirus.

There are also growing questions about whether people should wear mask. The CDC says those who are ill should wear masks to prevent transmission of the virus, but there is evidence that people who think they are healthy can be contagious before showing symptoms.

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Governor JB Pritzker said they are evaluating the policy, but masks aren't a substitute for staying home.

"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."

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.

Governor Pritzker has called for licensed health care providers available to fight against COVID-19 to register online at

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.
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