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On Deadliest Day Yet, Dr. Ezike Begs Antsy Illinoisans To Stay Inside: ‘We’re Still At War’

"If this was a traditional war where there were soldiers outside of our doors, in the streets ... no one would think about getting their car washed," she said while announcing more people have died.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, 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 — On the day Illinois saw its highest one-day death toll from coronavirus, the leader of the Illinois Department of Public Health begged antsy residents to take it seriously because “we’re still in a significant war with an enemy.”

“If this was a traditional war where there were soldiers outside of our doors, in the streets, and people were risking their lives to be outside of their homes, no one would think about the need to go to to work, no one would think about getting their dog groomed, no one would think about getting their car washed,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike said at the state’s daily media briefing.

“But this enemy is so different. It’s invisible. And maybe as a result of that we have underestimated the power and destruction of this enemy.”

RELATED: How Illinois Will Reopen Amid Coronavirus: First Parks, Then Salons, Then Restaurants

An additional 175 people died from coronavirus in the past 24 hours, bringing the state’s total to at least 2,839.

And 2,122 people tested positive for coronavirus in the past day, meaning the state has now seen 65,962 confirmed cases.

Each person who died had tested positive for COVID-19, Ezike said.

The high death count came just a day after the state saw its lowest total in two weeks with 46 deaths.

Ezike, who has urged people to respect the state’s stay at home order for weeks, delivered an impassioned plea on Tuesday.

“I know that May has signaled a change — not only a change in the calendar month, not only a change in the weather, the season, but also a change in some people’s psyche,” she began. “The change has highlighted an increased sense of cabin fever and a desire to get out and get back to what people perceive as what their previous normal was and wanting that back so much. There’s so much pressure for us to get back to that normal because we have all faced this unprecedented disruption to our lives.”

But people must remember that thousands of people have died, and the fight continues, she said.

“We all have a choice still to make. … You are responsible to wear a covering if you’re out in public. … You are responsible for finding other ways to still connect with these individuals who do need connection but cannot have physical contact. You are responsible for staying inside as much as possible. The fact is that we are still battling the same virus that we were all so united in fighting just two months ago.”

Ezike said there are now 4,780 people in Illinois hospitals fighting coronavirus, up from the 4,492 reported on Monday. Of those, 1,266 people are in intensive care units, with 780 of those on ventilators.

Gov. JB Pritzker, who cautioned Monday against reading too much into a single day’s number, again urged people not to try to determine trends based on small amounts of data.

“One thing I think people should note is they should really look at a multi-day average,” he said. “As you saw, we had 46 one day and 172 another. I even said yesterday … you can’t look at one day’s results and think that you know what direction things are going. You really need to look at a multi-day average.”

Pritzker unveiled his plan to reopen Illinois at the press conference, saying he would follow the advice of experts like Ezike, as well as science and data, to determine how to safely revitalize the economy and get people back to work.


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 or difficulty breathing
  • Chills and shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Loss of taste and/or smell

People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion and runny nose, 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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