A person wears gloves while talking on the phone in Chicago as fears of COVID-19 rise on Friday, March 20, 2020. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — Cook County is becoming one of the United States’ “hot spots” for coronavirus, a White House official said as cases in Chicago passed the 1,000 mark.

So far, Chicago has had 1,489 confirmed cases of coronavirus, accounting for about 49 percent of the 3,026 confirmed cases in all of Illinois. There have been 27 deaths in Cook County and 34 throughout the state.

The quick growth of cases here means Chicago is becoming a hot spot in the nation for coronavirus, as is New Orleans, Dallas, Detroit and Philadelphia, among other cities, said Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator.

At the same time, Birx dismissed concerns there will be ventilator and hospital bed shortages.

But that’s exactly what local officials are preparing for as cases surge in Illinois.

There are already “dozens and dozens” of patients in intensive care units throughout the city, said Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health. And Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Chicago could expect upwards of 40,000 hospitalizations in the coming weeks.

“That number will break our health care system,” Lightfoot said Thursday.

Already, the city is in talks to bring thousands of hospital beds to McCormick Place’s East Building and is renting thousands of hotel rooms in hopes people with mild cases and those who need to isolate can stay there.

The McCormick Place plans are “part of our pandemic planning, but it is not something I have ever wanted to consider seriously in Chicago,” Arwady said. “But we’re talking about it not in theoretical ways. We’re working right now to do everything we can to protect our health care system.”

The city is also talking about how it could set up morgues in parking lots if necessary, Arwady said.

The city has also shut down lakefront-adjacent parks, the Lakefront Trail, the Riverwalk and the 606. Throughout Illinois, people are living under a newly enacted stay at home order and bars, restaurants and schools have been closed.

Officials hope those efforts — among others — mean fewer people will get sick and health care workers and hospitals won’t be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cases here.

It’s been too soon to tell what impact those measures have had on efforts to “bend the curve” and slow the growth of coronavirus cases in Chicago and all of Illinois.

Illinois is still seeing exponential growth in coronavirus cases, but the caseload is “slightly under predictions” that were made at the start of the crisis, said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, during a Thursday briefing.

Officials doubled down on their pleas for people to stay home on Thursday, saying that’s the best way to limit the spread of the virus.

If you are not social distancing, Gov. JB Pritzker said, “You are spitting in the face of the doctors and nurses and first responders who are risking everything so that you can survive. We are quite literally in the middle of a battle to save your life.”

Pritzker has a press conference at 2:30 p.m.

Coronavirus Cases

• There have been 3,026 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois as of Friday afternoon. Some of those patients have recovered since testing positive.

• There have been 1,489 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chicago.

• Thirty-four people have died of coronavirus in Illinois.

• Eleven members of the Chicago Police Fire departments have tested positive for coronavirus. At least two CTA employees have tested positive, as have 44 people at Cook County Jail.

If You Need Help

• Sick? Broke? Want To Help? Here’s A Massive List Of Coronavirus Resources In Chicago

What’s Happening In Chicago

McCormick Place: Thousands of hospital beds could be set up at the famous conference center to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.

• Parks And Beaches: The city’s lakefront-adjacent parks are closed, as is the Lakefront Trail, the 606 and the Riverwalk.

Too many people crowded them during warm weather Wednesday, leading to the closures, Lightfoot said.

• Stay at Home: Police will start issuing citations and fining people up to $500 if they don’t follow the state’s stay at home order. Those who don’t listen to warnings and citations could get arrested.

The order went into effect 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.

 Small Businesses: Illinois has created a grant program that will divide $14 million among hotels, bars and restaurants hit hard by the coronavirus. The businesses can use the money for payroll, rent and other things.

 Taxes: Pritzker moved back the state’s tax filing deadline to July 15, matching the federal deadline.

• United Center: The home of the Bulls and Blackhawks is becoming a medical supply and food distribution hub to help with relief efforts.

• Testing: COVID-19 testing has expanded, and Illinois is now doing about 2,000 tests per day. Pritzker said many more are needed.

An urgent care doctor said he’s tested hundreds of people — and many people who do have coronavirus are showing no symptoms, showing staying home is “the right thing.”

First responders can get tests if they have symptoms, but they faced a mile-long line at a testing site Wednesday.

Coronavirus testing is still extremely limited in Chicago — which is leading to fear and frustration for some residents.

 Bills and Tickets: Lightfoot said the city would stop booting cars and collecting debt until at least April 30 — but parking tickets from a private company, Chicago Parking Meters LLC, are continuing.

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.

• Weddings: Chicagoans are ditching big weddings and large guest lists for intimate ceremonies so they can practice social distancing.

“It wasn’t what we planned, but it was still beautiful and perfect,” said one bride after her weekend wedding.

 Jail Detainees: Twenty-two people at Cook County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19: 17 detainees, four guards and a member of the Sheriff’s Office. Activists are urging for non-violent detainees to be released so they can stay healthy.

The Sheriff’s Office has taken steps to ramp up cleaning and reduce visits so the virus doesn’t spread at the jail, but Pritzker has acknowledged the state is facing difficulties with figuring out how to make social distancing possible in Illinois prisons.

 National Guard: The Illinois National Guard has been activated, but its troops are working on things like distributing supplies and giving coronavirus tests. Adjutant Gen. Richard Neely tried to dispel rumors about the National Guard’s work during a Monday news conference.

• Via Crucis: Pilsen’s Stations of the Cross procession has been canceled due to the outbreak.

• 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.donations@illinois.gov.

• 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. Blood donations do not weaken your immune system, Pritzker 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.

• 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:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • 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.

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