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Coronavirus In Chicago: ‘A Race Against Time’ As Officials Prepare For Onslaught Of COVID-19 Cases

“Right now in Chicago the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is doubling about every three to four days,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Governor J.B. Pritzker look on as Dr. Emily Landon (not pictured) of the University of Chicago Medicine speaks at a press conference on the updates about COVID-19 in Illinois on Friday, March 20, 2020 in Chicago.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The city is readying for a coming surge of coronavirus patients, hoping preparing now can prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks.

For now, Illinois’ peak of COVID-19 cases is expected to come in mid- to late April — and there aren’t enough hospital beds for all the people who will need health care, officials have said.

In Chicago alone, there have been 2,167 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned the city could get 40,000 hospitalizations in coming weeks.

“Right now in Chicago the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is doubling about every three to four days,” Lightfoot said Monday. “Stay home. Save lives. … If we don’t, in the city of Chicago alone we’re looking at upwards of 40,000 hospitalizations. Not cases — hospitalizations.

“Here in Chicago our capacity for cases is still well ahead of demand — for now. But it’s truly a race against time.”

In all of Illinois, there had been 5,057 confirmed cases of the virus as of Monday afternoon, and 73 people have died from it so far. Cases are still growing exponentially here.

Officials are working furiously to prepare for the onslaught of cases. McCormick Place is being turned into a hospital, with 500 beds expected to be ready there this week. There will be 3,000 hospital beds there by the end of the month, with most of them planned for people who do not require intensive care.

MetroSouth Medical Center in suburban Blue Island could be temporarily re-opened to serve patients, as well.

The state and city are also encouraging anyone with any health care experience to return to the field so they can help in the battle against coronavirus. Those interested can find more information online.

“I want to emphasize to everybody that my No. 1 concern right now is making sure we get the testing we need, making sure we have the hospital beds that are necessary, making sure people get the treatment” they need, Pritzker said at a Monday briefing. “I am focused on delivering the health care that is necessary to keep as many people safe and healthy and alive as I can.”

But local efforts to prepare for the virus have been partially stymied by the federal government, Pritzker has repeatedly said.

Federal officials slowed down testing throughout the country through missteps early in the coronavirus crisis. So far, Illinois has only been able to test 30,446 people — less than .25 percent of the state’s population.

And federal officials haven’t helped states acquire and distribute the supplies they’ll need to manage the crisis and save lives, Pritzker has said. Ventilators, specialty masks and other supplies have been in short supply, with Illinois having to compete against other states and our own federal government to buy them from manufacturers.

Illinois has taken to looking for its own testing supplies and buying its own supplies, even working with other states without the federal government’s guidance so they can bulk buy to save money and ensure more people are helped, Pritzker said.

The state has also received more than 5 million units of donated personal protective equipment.

On Monday, federal officials sent Illinois a third shipment of supplies — but they’re still sending far too little compared to what the state has asked for and needs, Pritzker said.

President Donald Trump himself told Pritzker he’d get Illinois the N95 masks health care workers need to stay safe while helping patients, Pritzker said before. But when state workers started to go through the new supplies on Monday, they found the federal government hadn’t sent those masks at all.

Instead, they’d sent surgical masks.

In the absence of federal leadership, Pritzker said, “My team will continue to run down every possible lead to get what we need.”

Coronavirus Cases

• There have been 5,057 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois as of Monday afternoon. Some of those patients have recovered since testing positive.

• There have been 2,167 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chicago.

• Seventy-three people have died of coronavirus in Illinois.

• At the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago, 12 nurses have tested positive for coronavirus. And 50 members of the Chicago Police Department have confirmed cases of coronavirus, though that number is expected to grow Tuesday.

• More than 100 detained people at Cook County Jail have tested positive for coronavirus, as have 12 staffers.

If You Need Help

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

What’s Happening In Chicago

• Rent and Mortgages: Renters throughout the city are asking for help and threatening rent strikes as April 1 nears — but a rent freeze is not coming.

The city will give $1,000 grants to 2,000 Chicagoans to help with rent relief. You can apply online.

State officials have also contacted major mortgage lenders, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to ask them to offer multi-month forbearance to Illinoisans.

Pritzker has halted evictions throughout the state during the crisis.

• Remote Learning: CPS is sending out 100,000 laptops and tablets to students so they can learn at home, with remote learning set to begin April 13. It could also be a sign schools will stay closed longer than first announced.

Construction: Though New York City has called off construction, it continues throughout Illinois.

• McCormick Place: The convention center is being turned into a hospital for coronavirus patients. About 500 beds are being delivered there this week, and there will be 3,000 hospital beds at McCormick Place by the end of the month.

• Hospital Supplies: Officials are still trying to acquire more personal protective equipment, ventilators and other supplies they’ll need to fight coronavirus. Chicagoans are finding creative ways to get supplies to hospital workers, too.

• 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 are 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 state’s stay at home order 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. Lightfoot predicted the order will last “deep into April.”

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.

 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.

 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.

 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

• 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.


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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