CHICAGO — With the state’s supply of personal protective equipment dwindling and deliveries from the federal government insufficient, Gov. JB Pritzker said private companies in the state are stepping up to fill the void.
It comes as Chicago’s hospitals ask for donations of medical supplies so they can keep doctors, nurses and others safe while fighting coronavirus. And it comes as more cases of COVID-19 mount.
Illinois has now had 1,285 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 12 deaths — three more since Sunday. The increase in positive tests jumped 236 in the past 24 hours, officials said.
Pritzker, who has been critical of President Donald Trump’s response to the crisis, spoke directly to Trump at about noon Monday, the governor said. Pritzker said he requested they speak, and the president called.
“The president was very responsive, frankly,” Pritzker said.
“He said, ‘What do you need? Let me see if I can get that for you.’ … He said, ‘Let me work on that.’ It seems he’s being very responsive to what I asked for … .”
Besides working with Trump, Pritzker’s administration is independently trying to get supplies. On Monday, the governor announced Illinois manufacturers are now collaborating through a task force to speed up the production of supplies, test their safety and keep such products in Illinois.
Companies interested in joining and helping Illinois produce supplies can find more information at ima-net.org.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said the state is seeing statistics similar to other regions when it comes to the percentages of sick being hospitalized or intubated: 15-20 percent of positive COVID-19 cases end up with some sort of hospitalization and about 5 percent of cases end up in intensive care. But not all people in intensive care require ventilators, she said.
Ezike cautioned that, despite drastic measures like closing schools, bars and restaurants and ordering people to stay home, Illinois is far from out of the woods. Those actions will take at least two weeks to make an impact, and perhaps as long as a month. The people getting sick now were infected before the state took action, she said.
“We’re in this for the long haul,” she said.
Chicago’s hospitals have not yet been overwhelmed by the virus, but officials are trying to prepare as cases surge.
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 this weekend.
At the same time, Illinois has received just 25 percent of the protective gear it asked for from the federal government, according to Pritzker. That equipment is needed to keep doctors, nurses and other health care workers healthy while tending to patients with coronavirus.
“Illinois is acquiring PPE to compensate for what we haven’t received in our federal requests,” Pritzker said Monday at his daily press briefing. “But we are doing so while running up against obstacles that should not exist. I have medical professionals and first responders begging for things they need to keep them safe.”
Pritzker said his administration has reached out to manufacturers directly — sometimes while competing against other states or the federal government because demand is so high — and has been able to order 2.5 million N95 masks, 1 million surgical masks, 11,000 gloves and 10,000 personal protection kits.
But the lack of help and organization from the federal government means “cash-strapped states” are paying more than they should and struggling to get the supply of gear they need, Pritzker said.
“I said I’d fight like hell for you, and I’m doing that every minute of every hour of every day,” Pritzker said. “One way or another, we need these supplies.”
Pritzker has asked veterinarian offices, tattoo parlors and other spots to donate their protective gear to the state and to hospitals.
Those who want to donate can contact the state at PPE.firstname.lastname@example.org.
In his call for donated supplies Saturday, 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.
“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 personal protective equipment, 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.
Here’s What Happening
• Stay at Home: The state’s stay at home order went into effect on Saturday. That means non-essential businesses are shut down (here’s what remains open) and people are urged to stay home and practice social distancing as much as possible.
Chicagoans who have tested positive for coronavirus, or even those who simply have symptoms of coronavirus, are being ordered to stay home or risk up to $500 fines.
• Health Care Workers: Doctors, nurses and other health care workers who recently retired or left the profession are being urged to rejoin so they can help in the fight against coronavirus.
Information about “re-enlisting” is available online.
• Protective Equipment: The state needs personal protective equipment for health care workers so they can stay healthy while treating COVID-19 patients. N95 masks, gloves, gowns and other items will be “essential,” Pritkzer said Saturday.
Businesses and organizations are being urged to donate their supplies to local hospitals. Those interested in donating items can email PPE.email@example.com.
• Blood Donations: Illinois needs people to donate blood or the state will be facing a second health care crisis.
It is still safe to donate blood so long as you feel well and practice social distancing, officials said.
• Volunteering: Those interested in helping people impacted by COVID-19 can look up community service opportunities on the state’s Serve Illinois site. Pritzker also urged people to go online and look for opportunities to donate or volunteer in their communities.
• Testing: Coronavirus testing is still extremely limited in Chicago — which is leading to fear and frustration for some residents.
Testing has expanded, though, and Pritzker has said he expects more tests will be available in the weeks to come.
• Bills and Tickets: The city will stop ticketing and booting cars and collecting debt until at least April 30.
However, a city program that promised to cut utility bills for low-income residents and families by up to 50 percent and to have past-due balances forgiven has been put on hold.
• Koval: A Ravenswood distillery known for its whiskey and gin is now focusing on making hand sanitizer for health care workers and retirement homes.
• Restaurants and Bars: Eateries around the city closed their dining rooms — or closed completely — last week. Some will still offer drive-thru, pickup and delivery options.
• Helping Workers: Aldermen are calling for the city to launch an emergency fund to help workers hurt by coronavirus.
Fat Rice is offering pay-what-you-can meal kits to laid-off industry workers and others in need.
Restaurant owners and chefs are teaming up to ask to the state to help them and their staff members, who face financial difficulties with the closures.
And here’s a guide for getting unemployment, rent relief and more if coronavirus has impacted your job.
• Chicago Public Schools: Schools remain closed.
Some people are finding alternative ways to educate kids: A South Side group created shipping container schools with class sizes of just 10 kids, while students at Michelle Clark created a podcast to stay connected and informed.
The district will hand out three days of food for all children in a family 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday-Friday at every school. Those needing emergency delivery can call 773-553-KIDS.
• Parks: The city’s parks have closed their facilities, like field houses, but people can still explore the green space, walk their dogs and play with their kids. Everyone is urged to practice social distancing.
• Weed: Curbside weed sales are being allowed for medical marijuana patients due to the outbreak. Dispensaries have been deemed an essential business and can remain open for the time being.
• Artists: Local musicians and artists are suffering because of the bans on public gatherings, but Chicagoans have started streaming live shows to help those in need.
• LGBTQIA: The Brave Space Alliance is creating a crisis pantry for queer and trans residents on the South Side.
• Grocery Stores: Officials have repeatedly urged Chicagoans not to hoard and stockpile food and home supplies at the city’s extremely busy stores.
Grocery stores, liquor stores and convenience stores remain open during the stay at home order.
Many grocery stores are offering special shopping hours for seniors so they can get the food and supplies they need safely. Seniors can call stores or look up their special hours online.
Jewel-Osco and Mariano’s are hiring as demand for groceries has skyrocketed.
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 or cough 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 COVID-19 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 ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.
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.