Pritzker expands COVID-19 testing in Illinois, joins coalition of Midwest governors
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Over the last 24 hours, Illinois saw its deadliest day since the coronavirus pandemic began.
Illinois health officials reported 1,140 new cases of COVID-19 and 125 additional deaths statewide Thursday. A total of 1,072 Illinois residents have now lost their lives to COVID-19, with the total number of cases in the state at 25,733.
WATCH: Gov. JB Pritzker on Illinois' deadliest day of COVID-19 outbreak
"It is my solemn responsibility to report lost 125 Illinoisans lost their lives to this virus over the last 24 hours," Pritzker said.
"While these numbers are disheartening, I don't want people to despair," Illinois Dept. of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. "Instead, I want them to renew our collective resolve to do what is needed to end the pandemic. We continue to learn and amass new information about this virus every single day."
The path back toward a more normal life, as the governor and his experts see it, goes through testing - a lot of it.
"We need to know who may be infected," Dr. Ezike said. "As soon as we can, before they come into contact with many other people, especially the most vulnerable."
Tests have confirmed more than 25,000 positive COVID-19 cases in Illinois, but doctors believe there could be thousands more infected, or already recovered.
WATCH: Gov. Pritzker expands COVID-19 testing in Illinois, secures more PPE
"If you don't have the virus, if you're not shedding the virus at this time, then your test will not be positive," Dr. Ezike explained. "But that doesn't mean if you have a negative test that you're immune, or that you can't get infected."
Discovering who has already recovered from possible unknown cases of COVID-19 will be the focus of antibody testing that state labs are working to expand. But even the lack of basic nasal testing for COVID19 has been the biggest struggle since the virus showed up in Illinois four months ago.
"The state of Illinois has expanded those eligible to get a test to include anyone who had COVID-like symptoms, even if you have not been given a doctor's order," Gov. Pritzker said.
Gov. Pritzker said you will not need a doctor's order for the three state-run drive-thru centers, including the new site in Markham.
Because African-Americans have been hit hard by COVID-19, the state is teaming up with University of Chicago medicine to ramp up testing in minority neighborhoods.
"We've committed together to generate 1,000 tests each day for the communities on the South Side and the Southland," said Dr. Stephen Weber, chief medical officer at University of Chicago Medical Center. "We hope this makes us much closer as a state to the governor's commitment of 10,000 tests a day."
Gov. Pritzker said access to more labs that process the tests have allowed for the expansion.
With a supply chain strained by a sudden high demand, health care workers in Illinois have been strapped for critical protective gear to guard against the spread of COVID-19. The state is burning through millions of masks, gloves and gowns a week.
"We also have outstanding orders due to arrive in the coming days and weeks with an additional 27 million 95 and N95 masks, 27 million surgical and disposable masks, 8.4 million gowns and coveralls, 23.5 million gloves, and 7.5 million face shields," Gov. Pritzker said.
WATCH: Gov. Pritzker partners with Midwest governors on plans to reopen economy
While doctors and scientists work on testing, Gov. Pritzker formed a partnership with his Midwestern counterparts. The agreement includes Indiana Governor Mike Holcomb, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Kentucky Governor Andy Bashear.
"We are committing, all of us, to work as a region to most effectively open economy with fact-based approach," Gov. Pritzker said.
Gov. Pritzker said because the White House has not taken the lead, Illinois is joining six other neighboring states in a coordinated effort.
"We are committing all of us to work in close coordination as a region to most effectively to reopen our economy with a fact-based, data-driven approach," Gov. Pritzker said. "Each state will design its own plan."
Priorities for each state plan will be based on holding down infection and hospitalization rates, healthcare capacity to handle a possible resurgence, social distancing in the workplace and testing on a widespread basis.
While the state of Wisconsin will stay locked down through the month of May and Ohio may slowly open before May, the governor is still weighing what's next for Illinois.
When asked if he would be extending Illinois' stay-at-home order, Gov. Pritzker said he is watching the data and expects to make a decision within the next week.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump laid out guidelines Thursday for what he calls a phased reopening of the stagnant American economy. He said the decisions will fall to the governors of each state.
"We know there will be continued challenges and hardships ahead," President Trump said Thursday as he unveiled a comprehensive strategy at the White House. It includes several phases aimed at slowly reopening America.
Before phase one would begin, states would need to see a two-week decline in people with COVID-19 symptoms and in the percentage of positive cases.
Also, robust testing programs for health care workers would need to be implemented, including emergency antibody testing. Governors would take the lead for their states.
WATCH: President Trump unveils 3-phase plan to reopen economy
President Donald Trump laid out guidelines for a three-phase reopening of the stagnant American economy. The decisions will fall to the governors of each state.
"Governors will be empowered to tailor their approach that meets the diverse circumstances of their own states," President Trump said. "Every state is very different."
Phase one would include maintaining social distancing and avoiding groups of more than 10.
Businesses could slowly return to work if states can go two weeks without a rebound of cases.
Phase two would follow, and we could see restaurants, movies and bars reopening with social distancing protocols.
"And some states will be able to open sooner than others," President Trump added.