CHICAGO — As cases of coronavirus continue to mount in the state, Gov. JB Pritzker on Saturday asked former doctors, nurses and other health care workers to come back to work and join the fight against COVID-19.
“We need your help now,” the governor said. “This is hero’s work, and all of you have our deepest gratitude.”
The governor, speaking at the Thompson Center at his daily coronavirus briefing, said the state will waive fees and expedite licensure so former workers can rejoin the health care workforce right away.
Illinois now has 753 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and six deaths. That’s an additional 168 cases and one death since Friday.
The latest victim is a Cook County man in his 70s.
While the virus is mild for the vast majority of people, the concern is so many people in Illinois are getting it that “even the small number of people who have trouble recovering is more than our health care system may be able to handle,” Pritkzer said.
That’s proven deadly in other locations: Italy’s health care system was overloaded by the sheer volume of cases there and doctors and hospitals haven’t had the resources to care for people who could otherwise be saved. That’s led to a surge of deaths there — 4,825 as of Saturday.
For medical professionals whose licenses are expiring, those licenses are automatically being extended through the end of September, he said. And Illinois will make it easier for health care workers who live near the border of the state and practice outside Illinois to work in this state.
Meanwhile, Pritzker put out a call for donations of medical supplies, including from dentists and veterinarians.
Pritzker said his optimism the federal government will come to the rescue is low.
“My optimism has waned, honestly,” he said.
“Weeks ago, we were promised tests. We were told, ‘Right around the corner,'” Pritzker said. “Then weeks went by. Now, are we seeing more tests? Yes, but not even at the number we were promised weeks ago.”
The governor said he’s optimistic commercial labs and other parts of the private sector will find solutions.
“Because so far the federal government hasn’t,” he said.
“Just one example: Private companies … have developed rapid COVID-19 tests” that work on the spot instead of in hours, he said.
“That would be a revolution here. I’m hopeful in that regard we’re gonna get help. The ingenuity of the people of Illinois, the ingenuity of the private sector, the ingenuity of the people who work in hospitals all across the state is heartening.”
In his call for donated supplies, Pritzker said his administration is keeping an inventory of available supplies — but they’re going fast. Gowns, face shields and gloves are needed, with an acute need for masks for first responders.
“We’ve gotten no help from the federal government — or let me say limited help. … We got 25 percent of what we asked for from the federal government,” he said.
“During this unprecedented public health emergency, stocks of personal protective equipment … are being used rapidly,” he said. “The availability of critical resources, such as gloves, gowns, eye protection and N95 respirator masks, is essential.”
To maximize the state’s availability of “PPE,” the Illinois Department of Public Health released guidance to limit non-essential adult elective surgery and other medical and surgical procedures, including dental procedures, until further notice so the gear that would be used during those can instead be saved for the fight against the virus.
Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.
Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.
The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The most common symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat, according to Harvard Medical School.
If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.
How To Protect Yourself
The CDC only recommends those are already sick wear facemasks because they help you avoid spreading the virus.
Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:
- The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
- Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
- Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
- Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- If you have to sneeze with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.
What To Do If You Think You’re Sick
Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.
If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where corona is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus. Anyone who feels unwell has been advised to stay home.
Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.
Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.