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Coronavirus In Chicago: Confirmed Cases Spike In Illinois, But It’s Fueled By Skyrocketing Testing, Officials Say

Alivio Medical Center's Pilsen drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in the Lower West Side neighborhood in action on Saturday, May 9, 2020. | Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Confirmed cases of coronavirus are quickly growing throughout Illinois — but that’s partly because testing efforts have skyrocketed in recent weeks, officials said.

The head of the Illinois Department of Public Health has always said there were many more cases of coronavirus in Illinois — and throughout the United States — than were being counted in official numbers because testing was limited. But the state has been able to dramatically increase its testing efforts in recent weeks, leading to more cases of COVID-19 being officially diagnosed.

Gov. JB Pritzker waved away concerns about the rising number of cases during Thursday’s press conference, saying Illinois merely appears to have more spread of the virus because it’s doing more testing than many other states. The state now has more than 240 testing sites open, while it had just 112 open in mid-April.

Other states simply aren’t doing as much testing, Pritzker said, “but the cases are there.”

“Our positivity rate is going down across the state, and that’s a very important thing. We all knew there were hundreds of thousands of people out there who have had or will have or currently have COVID-19. But not all of them are getting tested,” Pritzker said at a Thursday press conference. “I know everybody puts on the TV and you see the climbing number of total cases … but the reality is we’re doing a better job than most other states at testing, and that’s revealing, indeed, there are cases.”

At the beginning of the crisis, Pritzker said his goal was see Illinois reporting at least 10,000 tests per day. It took weeks to reach that point, with Illinois only hitting more than 10,000 tests for the first time April 25.

But since then, the state has far exceeded the 10,000 goal. This week, there’s even been days where more than 20,000 tests have been reported.

That’s led to a big jump in confirmed cases recently, with thousands more added to the state’s count daily. For example, Illinois has now seen 87,937 confirmed cases of coronavirus — a growth of 17,064 cases in just a week.

But officials have said that quick growth is fueled in part by increased testing. Over the same week, the state reported 132,994 more testes were done.

The governor has previously said the number of confirmed coronavirus cases is a less important number to the state than other metrics, like how many people are hospitalized, in ICUs and on ventilators.

On Thursday, the governor pointed out the positivity rate, which measures how many coronavirus tests come back positive, has fallen, a good sign.

And Pritzker noted every part of the state is hitting his administration’s goals for reopening Illinois: positivity rates are falling or flat and there’s enough space in hospitals in case there’s a surge in cases, among other things.

Officials have said increased testing will be key to Illinois reopening safely because it will help them track where outbreaks are occurring and what communities are being hardest hit by COVID-19.

No one in the United States “has captured all of the cases of COVID-19,” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “I think it’s a credit that we have been able to ramp up testing throughout the state. This is getting us closer to actual numbers, but it’s falling far, far, far below the actual numbers.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has no scheduled press conferences. Pritzker has his daily coronavirus briefing at 2:30 p.m.

Coronavirus Cases

• There have been 87,937 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois as of Thursday afternoon. Many of those patients have recovered since testing positive.

• At least 3,928 people have died in Illinois as a result of the virus.

• There have been 34,413 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chicago and at least 1,552 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

Hilco Demolition: Faced with protests at her doorstep and opposition from aldermen, Lightfoot called off an emergency demolition at the old Crawford coal plant in Little Village.

Belmont Cragin: With coronavirus cases surging to an “unbelievable” level in Belmont Cragin, the city is finally opening a new testing site in the mostly Latino neighborhood.

Domestic Violence: Demand is spiking at domestic violence shelters, but they’re losing beds for social distancing.

I Grow Chicago: The group is raising money to better help Black Chicagoans who are struggling during the pandemic.

• Undercounting Deaths: The number of COVID-19 deaths in Illinois is likely higher than what’s been reported, said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

 Street Vendors: Street vendors are seeing sales plummet — but they have few, if any, options for emergency relief. Volunteers are raising money to help families, many of them undocumented, who are struggling.

• Food Delivery: Services like Grubhub and DoorDash will soon have to tell customers just how much they’re charging restaurants for delivering food. The city is pushing for more transparency from the services as restaurants struggle during the pandemic.

 Armory: The Broadway Armory has become an emergency homeless shelter as city officials try to alleviate crowding at existing facilities and protect people who are homeless from coronavirus.

• Therapy: The Center on Halsted is launching virtual therapy groups to support LGBTQ people during the coronavirus pandemic.

• Baseball: Lightfoot said she’d “consider” a plan from Major League Baseball to play games this summer — but only if it can be done safely.

 Gig Workers: About 50,000 1099 and gig workers filed for unemployment in the first day they were able to do so in Illinois.

 Church Services: Belmont Cragin church held services illegally and most of the attendees were from outside the neighborhood. The area is struggling as it battles thousands of coronavirus cases.

Now, residents are planning to protest the church.

• Lightfoot: The mayor said she was “not going to apologize for caring about Black Chicago” after some criticized her for telling a group of Black youths to go home.

• Reopening: Chicago is now on track to enter the next phase of the state’s reopening plan by May 29.

• Peak: The state’s expected coronavirus peak has been pushed back into mid-June.

• Remdesivir: Illinois received its first shipment of remdesivir, the antiviral drug that has shown success in helping people recover from coronavirus.

• Testing Sites: The city is opening six more testing sites on the South and West sides.

• Blue Angels: The famed U.S. Navy Blue Angels will fly over Chicago on Tuesday.

• Glassblowing: A West Side ceramics and glassblowing studio is launching a free weeklong virtual art experience for neighbors struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.

• Unemployment: 1099 and gig workers can now file claims for unemployment.

• Latino Communities: Faced with a surge of coronavirus cases in Chicago’s Latino neighborhoods, the city is scrambling to increase testing and treatment on the city’s South and West sides.

 Pro Sports: Chicago sports teams likely won’t be able to have fans at games for months, Pritzker said.

• Keep Isolating: It’s not safe to start expanding your “quarantine circle,” doctors said.

 “Still At War:” Though the weather is getting nicer, people must continue to stay at home so Illinois can win its war against COVID-19, Ezike said.

• Restaurants: The city’s eateries are urging customers to skip GrubHub and similar services and order directly from them so they can make it through the crisis.

• Help for Artists: The statewide Artist Relief Fund is again taking applications.

 Masks: Everyone is now required to wear a face covering or mask when unable to social distance. And yes, stores can require you to wear a face covering if you want to shop.

Here’s what you need to know about the requirement.

• 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.

Here’s where you can get tested in Chicago.

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 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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