Illinois' coronavirus cases top 30K, Pritzker says airlift of protective gear arriving from China

Will Jones Image
ByWill Jones via WLS logo
Monday, April 20, 2020
EMBED <>More Videos

Gov. Pritzker announced Sunday that an airlift of more personal protective equipment is on the way from China to keep health care workers and first responders safe on the job.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Gov. JB Pritkzer warned over the weekend that Illinois hasn't yet reached its peak in the fight against coronavirus, as the state's COVID-19 case count surpassed 30,000.

Illinois health officials announced 1,194 new COVID-19 cases and 33 additional deaths on Sunday. There are now 30,357 patients who have tested positive for coronavirus in Illinois, including 1,290 deaths.

Gov. Pritzker announced Sunday that an airlift of more personal protective equipment is on the way from China to keep health care workers and first responders safe on the job.

A chartered FedEx flight from China landed at O'Hare on Thursday, with millions of masks and gloves. The second chartered flight will land Monday.

The two flights are costing the state about $888,000, according to state receipts.

"If it strikes you as atypical that in the midst of a national emergency, a state is directly airlifting emergency response materials from another country, you would be right," Gov. Pritzker said Sunday. "But that's the landscape that we are operating in, competing with other states, other countries even our own federal government for supplies."

State officials have expressed repeatedly the challenges of getting enough protective gear for those on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19.

The Illinois National Guard will be handling transportation and logistics on the ground.

The equipment will go to a state warehouse to be checked out for quality, before it's shipped out across the state.

The White House is also putting pressure on states to ramp up testing in order to open back up the country.

"We believe the testing that we have today across the country once we can activate all the labs that can do coronavirus testing is sufficient for any state in America to move into phase one," Vice President Mike Pence said.

But Pritzker claims testing capacity isn't the issue.

He said Illinois and other states don't have enough of the necessary supplies and equipment for testing.

"Well yeah testing capacity is large but if you don't all have all the items, by the way none of the states have all the items that they need. You can't use the testing capacity that is available," the governor said.

On Saturday, Illinois' COVID-19 death toll matched the state's highest single-day increase since the outbreak began, with 125 additional deaths reported.

"Although our numbers continue to climb, it is with a guarded optimism that we say that the growth is slowing," Illinois Department of Public Health Dr. Ngozi Ezike said on Saturday.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, along with governors across the country, have been facing pressure to lift restrictions and reopen economies.

But Gov. Pritzker warned at a press conference Saturday that although there are encouraging signs in the state's fight against COVID-19, Illinois hasn't reached its peak.

"I want to remind you that we are not even at our peak yet," Pritzker said. "I want to remove the restrictions as much as anyone else (but) I'm going to do it based on science."

The governor said he's not feeling the heat to open back up the state.

"I want to get there as fast as anyone does," Gov. Pritzker said. "We want people to get back to work. We want people to get back to their lives."

He also said he's particularly concerned that the rate of ascent for the virus in rural areas caught up to, and in some areas surpassed, the rate in urban areas.

With warmer temperatures, crowds gathered at a park on the North Side Saturday, ignoring the closed sign.

Illinois residents have been under a "stay-at-home" order since March 21. It's set to expire April 30.

But Pritzker isn't ruling out extending it to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"You have to look at all the numbers, all trends and make a decision about whether or so for how long, under what conditions," Pritzker said.

Some governors are easing restrictions in their states, as demonstrators across the country call for stay home orders to be lifted.

Protesters in Indiana chanted outside the governor's mansion.

On Friday, Gov. Holcomb extended the state's stay home order from April 21 to May 1.

President Donald Trump has been pushing for Americans to be able to get back to work.

"Since we released the guidelines to open up America again, and this was two days ago, a number of states led by both Democrat and Republican governors have announced concrete steps to begin a safe, gradual and phased opening," Trump said.

For Illinois residents who are making summer plans with their families and friends, Pritzker warned they could be forced to postpone.

"It's difficult for me to advise people because there are so many uncertainties ahead of us," Pritzker said. "We don't even know exactly when the peak will be. We won't really know until you're past the peak that you've hit the peak."

Gov. Pritzker announced Friday that all in-person learning will be suspended for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year, as part of an effort to limit COVID-19 spread.

It's a decision most teachers, parents and students considered inevitable as the pandemic has paralyzed any sense of normalcy.

"This was not a decision I made lightly," Gov. Pritzker said Friday. "The shutting of in-person classroom time also risks a drop in instructional time. These challenges weighed heavily on me."

Coronavirus in Illinois: Latest news on COVID-19 cases, Chicago area impact

Meanwhile, the Illinois National Guard is deploying members to two state-run facilities.

On Monday, 22 airmen will go to Ludeman Developmental Center in Park Forest to begin conducting health screenings.

More than 100 residents and staff at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19. Two residents and one staff member have died after contracting the virus.

Twenty-two National Guard airmen will also be conducting health screenings at the Shapiro Developmental Center in Kanakakee next week.

Coronavirus deaths in Illinois by county; COVID-19 victims of all ages

WATCH: Gov. Pritzker expands COVID-19 testing in Illinois, secures more PPE

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.

Coronavirus testing: Where to get tested for COVID-19 in Illinois, Chicago area

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 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.

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