Coronavirus Illinois: COVID-19 cases top 96K with over 4K deaths as contact tracing program ramps up

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Illinois remains on track to enter Phase 3 of the reopening plan in just over a week, but Gov. JB Pritzker took heat Monday for authorizing the use of a misdemeanor citation for business owners who open early.

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

Illinois health officials announced 59 additional deaths and 2,294 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. That brings the statewide total to 96,485, including 4,234 deaths.

Within the past 24 hours, laboratories have reported 21,297 specimens for a total of 603,241. As of Monday, the statewide test positivity rate is 14%.

WATCH: Gov. JB Pritzker's COVID-19 update on May 18
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Watch Gov. JB Pritzker and Dr. Ngozi Ezike's daily COVID-19 update on May 18, 2020.

Gov. JB Pritzker laid out details Monday of a new contract tracing system to be launched with local health departments in the next few weeks. Improving contact tracing, which helps identify and locate anyone who's been in contact with a COVID-positive patient, is a step the governor has said is crucial to reopening the state.

"The first contact will be through a technological platform, such as text message or an email, which we hope most individuals will respond to," said Dr. Wayne Duffus, of the Illinois Dept. of Public Health. "And if this is ineffective at least three phone calls will be made, and only as a last resort. Will there be in-person visits."

MORE: Apply to be a contact tracer

The state is launching pilot programs in Lake and St. Clair counties. Currently, only 29% of known cases are engaged in a tracing process. The goal is for that figure to be above 60%.

Officials say that contact tracing program will be community based with hiring and other aspects of the program run by local health departments under state guidance.

WATCH: New contract tracing program to be launched in Illinois
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With Illinois still on track to move to the next phase of reopening, the debate over the governor's plan is only growing sharper, with some taking their rhetoric too far.

Following a weekend of protests, in Chicago and Springfield, the governor accused some of spreading hate and fear. Things got personal when he spoke about some of the hate-filled messages that have directed at him.

"I have to admit that I am worried about my family's safety. You saw some of the signs, you saw the vehemence that people were carrying those signs with swastikas and pictures of Adolph Hitler, references to me and my family," Pritzker said. "Yeah, I'm concerned. But I also want you to know that I am undeterred from the path we're on. I think we're doing the right thing."

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Amid continued defiance from some business owners, the governor authorized a new enforcement tool Friday allowing violators who open too early to be charged with a class A misdemeanor, punishable by fines of up to $2,500.

The governor said he was unaware of any businesses being cited over the weekend with misdemeanor citations for reopening in areas like downstate Madison County, which announced last week it would not be following the governor's reopening plan.

"This citation causes less harm to a business than a total shutdown or a loss of a license, but gives local governments and law enforcement the ability to do their job," Pritzker added.

Some Republicans called that heavy-handed, but the governor said it is actually a tool that would allow a lesser penalty for violators.

"But I can tell you, I just think this is wrong. People think it's wrong," said State Sen. Bill Brady, Senate GOP Leader. "We can and need to unify ourselves to bring ourselves together. This is just for division."

"There wasn't a straw that broke the camel's back," Pritzker said. "It was, you know, we don't want to have to pull licenses for people. We don't want to have to shut a business down. What we really want is for people to comply. And we want to give them, you know, this type of citation as an alternative."

Ahead of this week's special session in Springfield, state GOP leaders said they want hearings on the reopening plan.

"This gives us an opportunity to have a fluid discussion of why the governor is requiring that Illinois be put into four regions, rather than 11 regions," Brady said.

"There is a growing dissatisfaction... of the governor trying to play not only the executive role, but also the legislative role," said State Rep. Jim Durkin, House GOP Leader.

Republican leaders also called for the governor's graduated income tax to be taken off the November ballot. Gov. Pritzker dismissed that, saying Republicans are just trying to keep people from voting on this issue and it must be a concern to them that it might actually pass.

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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