Coronavirus Illinois: IL conducts 20K COVID-19 tests in single day; Unemployment system upgraded as 1M claims filed since March

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Illinois has reached a new COVID-19 testing milestone after conducting more than 20,000 tests in a single day.

Governor JB Pritzker announced Friday that 20,671 tests were conducted within 24 hours.

"As of May 6th, Illinois ranks second among the 10 most populous states in the number of tests completed per capita over the last 7 days," Pritzker said. "And Illinois is fifth among all 50 states in total tests completed since the beginning of this pandemic."

So far, Illinois has conducted a total of just under 400,000 COVID-19 tests.

Pritzker said the state is setting up three more drive-thru testing sites next week. He plans to announce the locations in the coming days.

On Friday, state health officials announced 2,887 new cases of coronavirus in Illinois Friday, including 130 additional deaths. That brings the the state's total COVID-19 cases to 73,760, including 3,241 deaths.

Despite the grim numbers, officials said they're actually seeing a slight decline in deaths this week compared to the last couple of weeks.

But doubling the initial COVID-19 testing goal of 10,000 still isn't enough for a broad reopening of Illinois' economy.

According to a Harvard University analysis, Illinois needs more than 64,000 tests before loosening the stay-at-home order.

"Even if we're one of the best states in the nation on testing, we know it's not enough to be where we need to be on a longer time frame," Pritzker said. "I'm committed to continuing our successes on this front because it is fundamental to our economic future and to keeping Illinoisans safe while COVID-19 is still out there."

Pritzker said a shipment of hundreds of thousands of swabs and other testing materials from the White House has been delayed a few days, but once it arrives it will help Illinois ramp up testing even more.

On Friday, the governor was hit with another lawsuit. This time, the lawsuit came from a downstate hair salon owner, who says Pritzker doesn't have the authority to close her business.

"The legislature never delegated the authority to the governor to close businesses even under a disaster. That was specifically delegated to the Department of Health," said attorney Thomas DeVore.

ABC7 Legal Analyst Gil Soffer said, "The executive branch has immense authority, especially in emergency situations, which this is. It doesn't mean it's limitless authority. But it means it's very broad. And in an emergency, you typically see courts be very deferential to the executives."

On Friday, historic national unemployment numbers were reported, rivaling the Great Depression.

More than $20 million U.S. jobs were lost in April, with the national unemployment rate near 15%. Leisure and hospitality marked one of the hardest hit industries, with a 47% drop in employment.

In Illinois, restaurant and bar owners are pressing the governor to allow them to resume in-person dining soon.

The current reopening plan would allow that to happen June 26th, at the earliest. But the Illinois Restaurant Association is proposing a May reopening at 25% capacity.

The governor, however, is holding firm, saying he's listening to what his scientific team is telling him.

"It's very difficult to socially distance as between a server and the food, the server, the food, and delivery of the food to the table," Pritzker said. "It's also difficult to even to seat people at tables the way they're normally configured in a six foot distance."

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Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker gives COVID-19 update on May 8, 2020.

The governor is also promising that more help is on the way for residents trying to file for unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With so many people still unable to get through on the phone, Governor Pritzker said a new unemployment call center is now up and running, with 100 new agents expected to be working there by Monday.

Nearly 75,000 unemployment claims were made last week, bringing the total since March 1 to more than a million.

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Governor JB Pritzker said more help is on the way for people who are trying to file for unemployment as public health officials announced 2,641 new cases of coronavirus in Illinois

"The pain and devastation for people who lost their jobs is heartbreaking," Pritzker said.

The governor says the state's unemployment agency continues to increase staffing but many still cannot get through to file.

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"You've got to get these unemployment offices open," said unemployed electrician Noal Arce. "I tried online, but it will not accept the social security number unless it's been verified through the unemployment office. And you can't get into the unemployment office."

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Despite the skyrocketing unemployment numbers, the governor said the state has made significant payouts.

"In the first four months of 2020, Illinois has paid out over $2 billion in claims," Pritzker said. "That's $500 million more than what was paid out in all 12 months of 2019."

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As the frustrations continue to mount among those trying to file claims online or get questions answered on the phone, the governor said more help is on the way.

With many still reporting problems filing claims online and over the phone, the governor said the state's unemployment agency continues to increase staffing and update systems. Starting Monday, independent contractors and gig workers will be eligible for benefits. The state's computer system has been updated and can now process 140,000 claims an hour, Pritzker said.

"Under the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, program, claimants can receive up to 39 weeks of benefits backdated to the first week of unemployment," Pritzker said.

With so many hurting, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce is demanding the state reopen faster.

"Government really needs to be able to do both things: listen to scientists plus also listen to the economy, people who provide jobs," said Todd Maisch, Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

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Thursday marked the third consecutive day with more than 100 deaths reported from COVID-19 statewide. And with more people venturing out, there's concern about a rise in cases.

"We now need to see what will happen with the new attitudes that are prevailing and the new behaviors that are prevailing," said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois Dept. of Public Health. "The more people are out, the more infections there will be."

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The governor said he is concerned about the possibility of a long plateau, but he said if trends remain stable, we should be able to still move to the next phase of reopening.

A suburban church is the latest to announce it will defy the governor's order. Starting May 17, Northwest Bible Baptist Church in Elgin will begin holding services above the 10-person limit with masks and social distancing.

"I have discouraged local law enforcement from arresting people," Pritzker said. "I have not discouraged them from reminding them what their obligations are to each other, and I would think that a house of worship and a pastor would know better."

"If it's expected that people are able to comply at work or at a business like a big box retailer with social distancing requirements, certainly churches are capable of doing that very same thing," said Jeremy Dys, special counsel at the First Liberty Institute.
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