Coronavirus Illinois: Pritzker launches free COVID-19 support text line as cases surpass 19K

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Illinois officials are rolling out new programs to help protect both the physical and mental health of residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With more individuals losing their lives to coronavirus each day, many need emotional support to handle the stress.

"We are seeing isolation and depression," said Dr. Brittany Best, of BBG Psychological Services.

Dr. Best said thousands of people are feeling the stress, uncertainty and isolation.

"The pandemic is causing mental health symptoms like depression and anxiety for people who have never experienced mental health conditions before," Dr. Best said.

Many are left wondering where to turn.

"We are here to help," Gov. JB Pritzker said Saturday.

The Illinois Department of Human Services launched a free text line, Call 4 Calm, over the weekend.

Gov. Pritzker said Call 4 Calm isn't a crisis hotline, but rather a source of support.

Residents who text the line will be contacted by a counselor from a local community mental health center. Residents can be connected with mental health professionals by texting "TALK" or "HABLAR," for Spanish speakers, to 5-5-2-0-2-0.

Individuals can also use the text line to be connected with services related to unemployment, food and housing.

The state is also expanding its tele-health options for people potentially infected with the virus, allowing them to recover at home.

"Health care workers can connect digitally with you when you have symptoms, but do not require emergency or in-patient care," Pritzker said.

The efforts focus on underserved communities at risk during the pandemic.

"Patients will have daily virtual visits and will receive wellness kits with things like thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, alcohol wipes," Pritzker said.

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Illinois officials have launched an emotional support text line over the weekend to help residents facing stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement Saturday comes as Illinois' coronavirus cases grew by 1,293 to a total of more than 19,000.

Illinois heath officials announced 81 additional deaths on Saturday, bringing the state's death toll to 677.

An employee at the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs has tested positive for COVID-19, state officials said Saturday.

The employee worked at the Illinois Veterans Home at Manteno, and is currently isolating at home.

Meanwhile, another facility that serves homeless veterans on the Manteno grounds has identified four employees and two homeless veterans who've contracted the virus. An investigation is underway to determine other individuals who might have been exposed.

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Illinois Gov. JB Pritkzer is promising action to protect African American communities disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

On Friday, Gov. JB Pritkzer promised action to protect African American communities disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Officials say the overall COVID-19 mortality rate in Illinois' African American communities is five times greater than in white communities, with blacks in their 50s dying at 12 times the rate.

State officials said African Americans, in general, have higher rates of some of the chronic conditions that can lead to more serious COVID-19-related illness, but a lack of access to regular health care is also a factor.

"Generations of systemic disadvantages in health care delivery and in health care access in communities of color, and black communities in particular, are now amplified in this crisis," Pritzker said Friday, when the state's coronavirus death toll reached nearly 600.

Illinois officials said that needs to change.

"We will not stand idly by while one segment of the population bears an unfortunate, heightened burden of this disease," said Illinois Department of Public Health Dr. Ngozi Ezike.

State officials announced a series of initiatives aimed at increasing testing in the African American community, including a partnership between Lurie Children's Hospital and four community health centers on Chicago's South and West Sides.

The goal is to test hundreds daily in those neighborhood clinics, including Lawndale Christian Health Center.

"We must join together. We must practice these things that will mitigate our abilities to be infected. And we must connect with one another," said Lurie Children's Hospital Dr. Horace Smith.

Those community health centers will be among the first to receive the new rapid test machine from Abbott Labs, which can provide results in minutes.

Gov. JB Pritzker also announced a program to provide hotel rooms for people from multi-generational households who need to self-isolate.

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Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker promises action to protect communities of color disproportionately affected by COVID-19 during a briefing on April 10, 2020.

On Friday, Illinois reported more than 1,400 new coronavirus cases and 68 additional deaths, a slight uptick from Thursday's report. But the governor said he still believes the rate of rise is starting to level off.

Gov. Pritzker said Thursday that new data shows the state may be "bending the curve" in the fight against COVID-19, but cautioned residents still need to practice social distancing and abide by the stay-at-home order.

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"Our rate of rise is looking less and less exponential, that indicates to us that we are in fact bending the curve, there is even some evidence that we may be moving towards a flatter curve - but we need to keep watching the data on a daily basis," Pritzker said Thursday, exactly one month since declaring a disaster proclamation in Illinois.

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On Friday, Prtizker tempered comments he made the day before that large summer gatherings might need to be canceled.

He said it's the data that will ultimately dictate what happens moving forward.

"I was merely suggesting that people should contemplate 'what if' because we need to follow what the scientists and the doctors tell us," Pritzker said.

The governor also said he still hasn't decided whether on-site schooling will be canceled for the rest of the year.

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 websiteid
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