CHICAGO (CBS) — For the third day in a row, Illinois reported fewer than 100 COVID-19 deaths on Monday, while also seeing a continued decline in the number of virus patients being treated in hospitals.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said there have been 2,294 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Illinois in the past day, including 59 additional deaths.
Since the start of the pandemic, Illinois has had 96,485 cases in 100 counties, although many of those have since recovered. The state has had 4,234 COVID-19 deaths so far.
As of Sunday night, 4,120 coronavirus patients were being treated in Illinois hospitals, including 1,096 in intensive care, and 636 on ventilators. Those figures have been steadily dropping for several days, and state officials have said the entire state currently is on track to enter the next phase of reopening by the end of the month.
Ezike said, while COVID-19 will continue to be a threat for the foreseeable future, people should keep up with routine medical care, such as wellness checks for children, and mammograms for women.
“As we continue to forge ahead in our life with COVID-19, there are things that we’re going to start getting back to, and this includes of course taking care of our health, and all parts of our health. While we’re aggressively trying to prevent getting COVID, and standing down, if we do contract it, we still have other medical issues that we need to attend to,” she said.
Gov. JB Pritzker also announced a new effort to ramp up contact tracing in Illinois, by helping local and county public health departments expand existing efforts and hire new staff.
The governor said contact tracing — the effort to identify, notify, and isolate everyone who has had close contact with diagnosed coronavirus patients — is “arguably our most sustainable tool” in the battle against COVID-19.
“Knowing if you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 gives everyday Illinoisans the ability to keep their families and coworkers and friends safe, by helping them seek testing or self-isolate, and it helps us to build a better public health system that truly supports them if their exposure leads to actual infection,” he said.
In the first month of the pandemic, Pritzker said existing contact tracers in Illinois were able to handle the caseload, but the rapid rise in cases and longtime underfunding of local public health departments placed a severe burden on the system, and limited ability to maintain sufficient contact tracing.
The new Illinois Contact Tracing Collaborative will begin with pilot programs in St. Clair and Lake counties, which the governor’s office said were chosen due to large numbers of cases among vulnerable populations; and existing collaboration between public health workers, medical students, and volunteers on the front lines of the fight against the virus.
IDPH also will help 97 local health departments assess their ability to expand existing contact tracing capabilities, and will help provide federal COVID-19 relief funds for them to pay for new contact tracing staff.
Pritzker said, as of Monday, only about 29% of known COVID-19 cases are engaged in the contact tracing, and he wants to more than double that to 60%, the national standard.
The governor also defended his decision on Friday to sign an emergency rule allowing for businesses to be charged with a misdemeanor for violating his statewide stay-at-home order.
Pritzker said, under the state’s Public Health Act, if a business violates public health rules, and puts people at risk, it’s a Class A misdemeanor. The emergency rule he signed Friday requires businesses to follow the guidelines of his stay-at-home order, or face a misdemeanor citation, which carries a fine of $75 to $2,500.
The governor said he wanted to give law enforcement another tool to go after businesses that violate the order, without having to go so far as to shut down a business entirely, or strip it of state licenses. He also said the rule could only be used against businesses, not individuals, so no one would face any jail time.
“This additional enforcement tool, this citation, causes less harm to a business than a total shutdown, or a loss of a license, but gives local governments and law enforcement the ability to do their job,” he said.
The governor said he would still prefer for Illinois State Police and local law enforcement agencies to focus on educating people and businesses about the need to comply with the stay-at-home order, rather than issue fines, or move to shut down a business.
Pritzker said local police and prosecutors will still have the discretion on how to address violations of the stay-at-home order on a case-by-case basis. He said there was no particular incident that convinced him to sign the new rule, and he said he’s not aware of any misdemeanor citations being issued so far.
“It wasn’t that there was a straw that broke the camel’s back. It was that we don’t want to have to pull licenses from people, we don’t want to have to shut a business down, what we really want is for people to comply, and we want to give them this type of citation as an alternative,” he said.