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82 More Die From Coronavirus In Illinois, But Growth Is Slowing, State’s Top Doctor Says

"But even as there may be some glimmers of hope, I say that physical distancing ... must continue to be the way we reduce the spread of this virus," Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. "Please stay home."

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, former director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, speaks at a press conference about COVID-19 in Illinois on March 20 in Chicago.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — An “impatient” Gov. JB Pritzker said the state has not yet met its goal of administering 10,000 COVID-19 tests per day, saying some systems put in place have not been accurate enough to rely upon.

The news came amid the announcement of 82 more deaths in Illinois. There have now been 462 deaths in Illinois. In the past 24 hours, an additional 1,529 people have been identified with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

The number of deaths and confirmed new cases continue to rise as the state marches to the expected peak of the pandemic in Illinois, an apex officials have estimated will come in mid- to late April.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, did note that while the number of cases in Illinois is rising, the rate of growth is slowing.

“These are our highest numbers to date, and although the numbers are still increasing, I will tell you the rate at which they’re increasing is less. And that is a good sign,” Ezike said. “We’re not seeing the exponential growth we were seeing before. But even as there may be some glimmers of hope, I say that physical distancing … must continue to be the way we reduce the spread of this virus. Please stay home.”

Despite not having enough tests available, Ezike described the growth in cases as linear and no longer exponential.

“With guarded optimism, we’re hoping that we’re getting close to either the peak or the plateau. It’s not clear yet how long that would be. It’s really hard” to give a specific day for the peak, Ezike said.

“We think we’re heading in that direction and we will continue to follow the data.”

Pritzker has said the state can’t have a true view of the scope of the outbreak in Illinois until at least 10,000 people a day can be tested. But the state has only just surpassed the 6,000-a-day mark, he said.

“We need to know where there are large number of cases,” Ezike added.

The state obtained five RNA extractors intended to help speed up the testing process. The machines were distributed to three state labs with the hope of expanding testing capacity by thousands per day.

The results, however, have not been reliable, Pritzker said.

“I will not sacrifice accuracy for the sake of speed,” Pritzker said. “These tests and the results they will provide are too important. We have to get this right.

“These machines will not be part of our testing capacity here in Illinois” until this is overcome, he said. “Today, I’m standing in front of you and saying we are not there yet. … We are choosing the best path, but not necessarily the easiest path.

“If we wanted to choose an easy but less effective path, we could increase testing capacity through private labs used by the private government.”

But those labs take seven to 10 days to produce a result, which means people could be on a ventilator before they get a result.

“That’s just not a timeline I want to bet on,” Pritzker said.

State labs have been able to turn around results in about two days, officials said.

Symptoms

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

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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