Confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Illinois eclipsed the 20,000 mark Sunday, with state officials announcing another 1,672 cases in the past 24 hours that brought the total to 20,852.
The death toll reached 720, with another 43 individuals succumbing to complications from COVID-19 since Saturday.
But within those numbers there’s reason to be positive.
Gov. J.B. Pritkzer said there’s evidence Illinois may be “stabilizing” or “bending” the heretofore climbing curve of cases.
Illinois “now seems to be reaching a peaking term and our hopes have been coming to fruition,” Pritzker said.
The evidence: The percentage of tests coming back positive has remained steady, and the death toll announced Sunday was lower than it had been in six days.
“I pray as we move forward that these trends continue, and if they do it will be because of all of you adhering to the stay-at-home order,” Pritzker said. “I’m optimistic, I guess. Or, I’m at least cautiously optimistic.”
The order remains in effect through April 30, and the governor said everyone should continue to follow it, citing experts who say it’s important to “stay the course to make sure that we’re keeping the progress going that we’ve already made.”
Whether the number of cases in Illinois has in fact peaked can’t be known for sure until the cases begin to decline, Pritkzer said.
“What I look for is a leveling,” he said. “Because the numbers had been going up exponentially. And then they were going up arithmetically. And you’ll see this number today is higher than other numbers. It may be our highest number yet. But we also tested more than ever before and that’s how you end up with a higher number.”
Illinois has also seen the highest number of individuals get tested for COVID-19 in a single day, with 7,956 tests administered between Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
That’s still not enough – the governor had set a goal of 10,000 tests a day – but it’s higher than the roughly 6,000 Illinois has been averaging.
Despite his cautious optimism, Pritzker could give no details as to when Illinois’ “non-essential” businesses will be permitted to reopen and residents will have the green light to go out in public.
“It’s a question of how and when. The when will be frankly determined by when that curve starts to turn down and we see significant drop-off in these numbers,” he said.
Even then, only a “relatively low” percent of people – perhaps about 20%, the governor suggested – will have been exposed to and recovered from the coronavirus. “So you wouldn’t have herd immunity at that point. So the question is, how do you operate society?”
The goal would be to avoid lifting the order and having people return to a more normal lifestyle, only for there to be a spike in infections – and a spike in deaths.
Pritkzer has taken to wearing a mask when he walks into the room in Chicago’s Thompson Center, where he typically holds his daily coronavirus briefings. But he doffs, or takes it off, before stepping up to the lectern to share the latest news on the virus’s spread.
“I think it’s important for people to see my face, and for me to be able to project properly,” he said in response to a reporter’s question about whether that’s appropriate at a time he’s encouraging others to wear masks in public.
Germs like the coronavirus can be spread from person to person through droplets in saliva that carry through the air when people speak.
“First of all, we’re very careful when I come down to this room,” Pritzker said. “We’re doing it, I think, in the safest possible way given all the circumstances.”
The lectern is cleaned before and after each press conference, and anyone who speaks at it is careful to not touch their faces.
Illinois has another 100,000 N-95 respiratory masks to distribute to first responders and to health care workers, thanks to a donation from Apple.
Pritkzer, who has traded barbs with President Donald Trump on Twitter and on TV, was less pointed in the past but still had criticism about the White House’s handling of the pandemic.
While the Illinois legislature wouldn’t be in Springfield next week anyway – it’s the last half of a long-scheduled two-week spring break – the coronavirus scare has kept lawmakers from their regular spring work.
Without getting into specifics, Pritkzer said most policy priorities will be pushed aside.
“There is so much that we had intended to do and I could not possibly list everything,” he said. “Between the challenges of the budget and the challenges of, you know, trying to overcome something that is truly life-threatening to everybody in the state of Illinois, it is likely that many things will have to be put off until next year.”
Due to the Easter holiday, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike did not attend the briefing.
“The virus doesn’t take a day off. And it’s important for all of you to have the facts. So I’ll continue to deliver them even though it’s Easter,” the governor said.
Many religious services took place not with their usual packed pews of parishioners in their Easter best, but with pastors, preachers and priests giving virtual sermons and homilies that worshippers could watch from home.
“I know how hard it is to break from traditional celebrations of togetherness, but I believe passionately that adapting our expressions of faith in these times is one of the most faithful acts of all to hold our beliefs steadfast even as we defend ourselves against unprecedented challenges,” Pritzker said. “On this Easter, stay healthy and stay home.”
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky
Coronavirus Prevention Tips and Resources
Officials advise taking preventive measures to slow the spread of the virus, including:
—Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
—Using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
—Sneezing or coughing into a tissue and then disposing of the tissue
—Limiting contact with people regardless of how you feel
—Staying home when you are sick
Symptoms of COVID-19 include, but are not limited to:
—New onset of fever, cough, shortness of breath
—Congestion in the nasal sinuses or lungs
—Sore throat, body aches or unusual fatigue
If you think you have COVID-19:
Call you doctor before showing up at their office. If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, tell the operator that you think you have COVID-19. If possible, wear a mask before medical help arrives or presenting at a doctor’s office. More advice for those who think they have COVID-19.
—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
—Illinois’ COVID-19 website
—Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) website
—IDPH COVID-19 hotline: 800-889-3931
—IPDH COVID-19 email link
—City of Chicago COVID-19 website
—City of Chicago COVID-19 hotline: 312-746-4835
—City of Chicago COVID-19 email link