Coronavirus update: Illinois expands food stamp access as COVID-19 cases top 3K, with 34 deaths

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker is offering up more state assistance to provide housing and food to those in need as the number of COVID-19 cases in the state surpasses 3,000.

On Friday, Gov. Pritzker announced expanded access to the federal food stamp program, known as SNAP, and financial assistance for day care centers caring for children of essential workers.

The new measures to help Illinois working families come as state health officials announce 488 new coronavirus cases and eight additional deaths.

There are now a total of 3,026 confirmed coronavirus cases in Illinois, including 34 deaths, as of Friday.

The virus has spread to 40 Illinois counties, with Bureau, Henry and Iroquois counties now reporting cases.

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The number of COVID-19 cases in Illinois has surpassed 3,000, with 34 deaths, state health officials announced Friday.



As another extraordinary week draws to a close, officials said fighting the virus means battling the clock.

Hospitals need time to grow their capacity and acquire the necessary medical gear ahead of what could be an avalanche of patients.

"This is a war. It's a war against a pandemic," Gov. Pritzker said. "The federal government needs to lead, and until it does, we'll be a leader here in Illinois."

The governor is seeking thousands of ventilators for Illinois hospitals. During his briefing, he addressed President Donald Trump utilizing the Defense Production Act to compel General Motors to produce tens of thousands of ventilators.

Gov. Pritzker has been calling on the White House to take such an action for days.

He's also sought out more health care workers as well. Hundreds of retired medical professionals are already heeding the governor's call to return to their fields.

On Friday, Gov. Pritzker asked all licensed health care workers to sign up for a new emergency alert system.

"So that in the event of an urgent need, our public health officials will be able to ask you for your immediate assistance," Gov. Pritzker said. "This includes all physicians, practitioners, registered nurses, physicians assistants, respiratory specialists, medics, LPNs, certified nursing assistants, podiatrists, dentists, anyone who has made a career in the medical profession."

The governor requested that anyone in the medical field register for the alerts on the state's website: https://illinoishelps.net/.

"People who live in a certain area of the state, we might say, 'Hey everybody, we need 100 or 50 of these kinds of professionals, please let us know if you're available this afternoon, this evening to come to this location to help us out," Pritzker said.

More money will now be available for emergency day care providers who are caring for children of essential workers. There's also $6 million being directed to agencies helping those experiencing homelessness in Illinois.

More federal dollars are also coming in for those needing assistance with food through the federal SNAP program.

The Illinois Department of Human Services is increasing monthly SNAP benefits and expanding access to the program. It could mean doubling existing benefits for many residents, according to Pritzker's administration.

"We at IDHS want all eligible people to receive these life-altering and life-sustaining benefits, and I want the public to know these temporary benefit increases are designed to help more families withstand the extraordinary pressures many are facing during this emergency," said Grace Hou, the department's secretary.

With the number of Illinois cases continuing to rise sharply, the governor said he's still evaluating whether to extend the "stay-at-home" order past April 7.

"If I knew then what I know now, perhaps I would've put a 'stay-at-home' order back when we shut down St. Patrick's Day parades, but we're evaluating the science as it comes in and making the moves that we think are necessary," he said.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump approved Illinois' request for a federal disaster declaration.

It makes federal funding available for state, tribal and eligible local governments as well as certain nonprofits in response to the coronavirus outbreak. It also makes federal funding available for crisis counseling for Illinois residents affected by the crisis.

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Gov. Pritzker launched a new public-private partnership called the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund Thursday to support local community organizations across the state.



Gov. JB Pritzker's frustration was clearly on display Thursday, and he admonished those who are violating his "stay-at-home" order.

"The virus doesn't care that you're bored and want to hang out with friends," Pritzker said.

The governor said he was begging people to look at the big picture and realize they have to make sacrifices for the good of others.

"Throwing all caution to the wind is not acceptable," Gov. Pritzker said. "You're putting family and strangers in danger when you come into contact with them."

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Illinois health officials announced 673 new cases and seven additional deaths Thursday, bringing the state's total to 2,538 cases and 26 deaths.



Many nonprofits trying to help those in need during the COVID-19 outbreak are facing a crisis of their own.

Gov. Pritzker launched a new public-private partnership called the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund Thursday to support local community organizations across the state. Already more than $23 million has been donated to the fund.

Penny Pritzker, the governor's older sister, will be administering the fund.

The governor said he and his wife have personally donated $2 million, and his foundation has donated another $2 million.

On Thursday, Gov. Pritzker also issued an executive order that will keep new inmates from being admitted to state prisons, aside from some limited exceptions.

So far, 12 corrections staff and prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19.

On Wednesday, Gov. JB Pritzker announced he's delaying Illinois' tax filing deadline from April 15 to July 15.

Pritzker said the decision aligns Illinois' tax day with the federal government's and gives "millions of taxpayers three additional months to file their individual returns."
Tax preparers were among those who had been pushing for the three month postponement, which the governor said will not greatly impact the processing of tax refunds.

"Refunds will continue to be distributed in a timely fashion," the governor said.

Along with the reprieve for taxpayers, the Pritzker administration also announced that it was making hundreds of millions of dollars in loans and grants available to small businesses and restaurants hit hard by mandatory shutdowns.

Businesses can apply to the programs on the state's Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity website.

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Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker delayed the state's tax filing deadline Wednesday, as COVID-19 cases climbed to 1,865 with 19 deaths.



Illinois officials also addressed plans to pour money into banks.

"In turn, they've agreed to turn around and use the money to help small businesses and nonprofits pay rent, purchase supplies, and to make payroll," said Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs.

The state is also directing money to the hotel industry that's now bracing for a wave of layoffs as occupancy rates fall into the single digits.

Several hotels have partnered with the state, providing some 20,000 rooms for health care workers, first responders and hospital overflow.

"Our hoteliers throughout the state of Illinois have stepped up and answered the call of duty in a time of crisis to open their doors to some of the most vulnerable and at-risk citizens in our state," said Michael Jacobson of the Illinois Lodging and Hotel Association.

Regarding the efforts in Washington to pass a stimulus bill, the governor could not say how much he expects Illinois to receive. But he said his team will work to collect every dollar that the state is owed.

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The DuPage County Health Department reported yet another infected staff member at the Chateau Nursing and Rehabilitation Center just a day after the first resident passed away from the virus.



With the number of cases continuing to climb and fear and hardship growing, the state's top health official grew emotional.

"It is hard. I'm a doctor. I'm a mother, and I just buried my father last month, and so when I think about people who can't do what I did for my father last month, I feel it very real as to what people are going through and the sacrifices that they're making," said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.

Officials are concerned more than half the state's hospital beds are now occupied.

Hospital Beds:


ICU Beds:

Ventilators:

Pritzker said shuttered hospitals, like Metro South Hospital in south suburban Blue Island, may be reopened.
The state is also calling on existing hospitals to expand. Rush University Medical Center has already turned a lobby space into an area for treatment.

"We have expanded our emergency department," said Dr. Omar Lateef, Rush Medical Center CEO. "We have transformed entire units into COVID hospitals with many units that are designed to take care of patients."



State officials are also looking into using hotels as quarantine centers, something Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Chicago will be doing in her Monday press conference.

"In two weeks we would need over 28,000 additional non-ICU beds and over 9400 additional ICU beds; that's untenable," Pritzker said.

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Doctor Robert Murphy, executive director of the Institute for Global Health in Chicago, answers questions about the COVID-19 pandemic.


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Doctor Robert Murphy, executive director of the Institute for Global Health in Chicago, answers questions about the COVID-19 pandemic.



Another issue is staffing. Last weekend, Pritzker made a plea to retired health care workers, asking them to help with the influx of patients. The governor said 180 people applied in the first 24 hours.

While the state works to prepare the healthcare system, Pritzker said his "stay-at-home" order, earlier closure of schools, bars and restaurants are helping stave off a tsunami of patients.

RELATED: Coronavirus Illinois: What is and isn't allowed during a stay-at-home order
When asked if he'd extend the "stay-at-home" order past April 7, he responded, "I'm trying to follow the science here, and I am concerned that we may have to extend that deadline."

"The question that everyone wants answered right now is how long is all of this going to last," Pritzker said. "The honest answer is we don't yet know."

Pritzker added that he disagreed with talk from President Donald Trump and others about lifting national guidelines that are keeping people from work.

"I don't think he's listening to the science," Pritzker said. "I think he is operating, you know, he's looking at the stock market, which I know he essentially judges himself by."

Coronavirus: From hand-washing to wearing masks, here's how to protect yourself

Weeks into the battle against coronavirus, state leaders say the federal government has filled just a fraction of Illinois' requests for masks, gloves and other PPE.

Pritzker stated that until this week they only received one shipment of supplies they requested back on March 6, three days before the state's disaster proclamation. He said the initial shipment of 123,000 N95 masks was only 10% of the 1.2 million they requested.

Illinois has been left to acquire that critical gear on its own for their first responders and medical professionals.

Those who would like to help by donating PPE should contact PPE.Donations@Illinois.gov.

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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