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As State Braces For Possible Coronavirus Peak, Another 68 Deaths Are Reported

There have now been 596 deaths in Illinois and 17,887 confirmed cases in the state.

Gov. JB Pritzker 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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DOWNTOWN — State officials announced another 68 deaths and 1,465 new confirmed coronavirus cases Friday as the state approaches what could be the deadliest days of the outbreak.

Officials hope the wave of new cases and deaths will begin to crest soon as the effects of social distancing, closed restaurants and bars and the stay at home order begin to take hold.

But the infections that happened weeks ago continue to stress the state’s hospitals and health care workers.

There have now been 596 deaths in Illinois and 17,887 confirmed cases in the state.

And Gov. JB Pritzker said he’s concerned lifting the stay at home order — which is set to last through April, though it could be extended again — could lead to another spike of deaths and cases this summer. New federal projections obtained by The New York Times show a summer spike in infections if shelter-in-place orders are lifted at 30 days.

“I take that as some important information to take into account,” Pritzker said. “Again, this is about the science and the medicine. We need to listen to that. And I have said before that you need testing, tracing and treatment.

“Those are the three things we need in order to really make enormous changes.”

But, so far, Illinois does not have widespread testing, the ability to trace or treatments.

Pritzker has said he will use science and data to make decisions about lifting the stay at home order and ending the closures of restaurants, bars and schools — but he warned event organizers should be prepared for the possibility of having to cancel summer events.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, continued to highlight the huge racial disparity in deaths in Chicago: Black Chicagoans are dying from COVID-19 at a rate five times higher than white Chicagoans.

And older patients are seeing an even greater gulf. For people in their 50s, the rate of death is 12 times higher for Black Chicagoans; for people in their 60s, it’s eight times higher; for people in their 70s, it’s 10 times higher, Ezike said.

Ezike cited many factors for the ongoing disparity, including lack of access to regular medical care, being under-insured and living in extended family settings.

“And let’s not, of course, forget the centuries of structural and institutional racism,” she said. “We must address the disparity we are seeing. We gotta tackle it head on.”

As part of the effort to address the disproportionate impact the virus is having on Black victims, Pritzker said the state plans to expand testing on the South and West sides, issue guidance to hospitals to provide health care equitably and expand access to hotel rooms around the state for people with mild symptoms to self-isolate.

“Generations of systemic disadvantages in health care delivery and health care access in communities of color — and Black communities in particular — are now amplified in this crisis all across the state and across the nation,” the governor said. “We are making sure that our plans reflect equity in access, testing and treatment and we are asking the same of health care providers across the state. It’s in moments of crisis that we owe each other even greater expressions of humanity.”

For the expanded testing sites, Federally Qualified Health Centers will be opened at Lawndale Christian Health Center, PCC Community Wellness Center, Chicago Family Health Center and Friend Family Health Center. Those who are low-income, uninsured or underinsured can get tested, increasing testing in hard-hit communities by 400 per day, the governor’s office 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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