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Coronavirus In Chicago: Staying At Home Longer Will Save Tens Of Thousands Of Lives Here, Officials Say

Without a longer stay at home order, Illinois was expected to see thousands of people dying every day just by the end of May.

Amity Tyler of the Old Town neighborhood wears a mask in Chicago as fears of COVID-19 rise on Friday, March 20, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Illinoians following the now-extended stay at home order have saved tens of thousands of people, a “heroic” but difficult act, officials said.

Gov. JB Pritzker announced Thursday he’ll extend the stay at home order through May 30. But the order has been slightly tweaked: Illinoisans will soon be required to cover their faces when they can’t social distance, and some state parks and retail businesses will be allowed to reopen with restrictions.

Pritzker and other officials have repeatedly said social distancing has saved many lives in Illinois. But on Thursday, they revealed just how badly things could be here.

If Illinois had lifted its stay at home order April 30, projections show a second wave of coronavirus cases would have quickly hit Illinois, experts said. The state was expected to see thousands of people dying every day just by the end of May — and those staggering losses would continue to come “well into the summer,” Pritzker said.

RELATED: The Stay At Home Order Is Different This Time Around. Here’s How

“Our hospitals would be full and very sick people would have nowhere to go,” Pritzker said. “People who otherwise might have won their fight against COVID would die because we wouldn’t be able to help them through.”

The stay at home order and other measures — like the closing of schools and bans on large groups — helped Illinois flatten its curve and push out its peak, the governor said Thursday.

Where once the peak in cases was expected for mid-April, it’s now not projected to come until the end of April or beginning of May. That means the hospital system hasn’t been overwhelmed, as officials once feared it would be, and fewer people have died.

“That’s what you’re aiming to do: slow down the rate of transmission, which leads to a slower rate of increase [in cases] over a longer period of time …,” Pritzker said. “Pushing the peak further down the line may not sound like good news, but I promise you, it saves lives. And make no mistake: Illinois has saved lives.”

Models estimate 30,000 people would have died by now if Illinois had never instituted the stay at home order.

Instead, so far 1,688 people have died and 36,934 people have tested positive for coronavirus throughout all of Illinois. In Chicago, 661 people have died and 15,399 people have tested positive.

But Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have acknowledged the order has been hard: People are suffering emotionally and, with their workplaces closed, are filing for unemployment in record numbers and wondering how they’ll make rent or put food on the table.

Lightfoot announced Thursday she’s created a task force to figure out how Chicago and its residents can best recover mentally and financially from the pandemic.

And Pritzker reminded Illinoisans that though the crisis has been difficult, their actions have saved many people.

“The good people of this state have allowed our health care professionals the ability to treat patients to the best of our ability without having to make dark choices, very real choices, that doctors in other countries face about who lives and who died,” Pritzker said. “That is a historic and heroic act carried out by all of you.”

Lightfoot will preside over a City Council meeting starting at 1 p.m. and will have a press conference at 4 p.m. Pritzker will have his daily coronavirus briefing at 2:30 p.m.

Coronavirus Cases

• There have been 36,934 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois as of Thursday afternoon. Some of those patients have recovered since testing positive.

• At least 1,688 people have died in Illinois as a result of the virus.

• There have been 15,399 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chicago and at least 661 people have died.

If You Need Help

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

What’s Happening In Chicago

Recovery: The city has created a task force that will start exploring how Chicago can recovery financially and emotionally from the pandemic.

• Health Care Workers: At least 2,500 health care workers have gotten sick and eight have died from coronavirus in Illinois.

• Nursing Homes: The city’s nursing homes are seeing major COVID-19 outbreaks — especially on the Far North Side.

And 10 people have died at a South Shore nursing home where 70 percent of the residents have coronavirus.

• Pride: The 2020 Pride Parade is being postponed.

Pride Fest has also been postponed, though Market Days is still on for now.

• Schools: Pritzker announced last week schools will remain closed during this academic year. Opening them provides too many opportunities for coronavirus to spread, he said.

• Hydroxychloroquine: A drug touted by President Donald Trump is unproven and shouldn’t be used to treat coronavirus, Pritzker said.

• Testing: Officials are now saying anyone with coronavirus symptoms can get tested in Illinois. Before, they’d advised most people to simply stay at home and assume they had coronavirus.

And University of Chicago Medicine is partnering with other South Side organizations to test up to 1,000 people every day.

Here’s where you can get tested in Chicago.

• COVID Care Station: A free coronavirus screening station is coming to Little Village.

How Will Might Re-emerge: Here’s how Chicago managed to save lives while lifting its social distancing orders during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

• Unemployment: People who have struggled to file for unemployment in Illinois will soon have relief, Pritzker said, but gig workers won’t see their money until at least mid-May.

• Demolition: The city has put a six-month moratorium on implosions and issued a $68,000 fine against Hilco and its contractors following the demolition disaster in Little Village. The developer has been cited by the state EPA with violating pollution laws.

Now, Lincoln Park residents want General Iron shut down.

• Large Events: Some event producers are already canceling major summer festivals — including the Silver Room Block Party and West Fest — after Pritzker said he thinks all large summer events should be nixed.

A summer without festivals would be “devastating,” but it could save lives, producers said.

 Homeless Shelters: The city has begun having nurses visit shelters for people who are homeless so they can educate and screen people there. Chicago doctors and the city also teamed up to bring thousands of coronavirus tests to shelters.

• Call4Calm: People in need of mental or physical health care during the pandemic now have more free services from the state.

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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