CHICAGO (CBS) — Another 87 people have died of COVID-19 in Illinois in the past 24 hours, as public health officials confirmed a total of 2,268 new confirmed cases of the disease.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Illinois has had 102,686 total virus cases since the start of the pandemic, including 4,607 deaths.
In the past day, the state has conducted 29,307 virus tests, the highest one-day total to date, according to Ezike. Since the start of the pandemic, the state has conducted 672,020 tests.
As of Wednesday night, there were 4,107 virus patients being treated in Illinois hospitals, including 1,088 in intensive care, and 609 on ventilators.
“We have been talking about this novel coronavirus for months now, and we have learned a lot, but there are still unanswered questions,” Ezike said. “After a person is infected with the virus, are they immune? Can they get infected again? If a person is infected, can that person’s blood, or the plasma from the blood, can that actually be used as treatment for others? We are still learning the answers to these questions, and many, many more. We’re trying to learn them as quickly as we can, but we must use what we do know to be true to help protect ourselves and stop additional spread.”
Ezike said that’s why people need to continue to wear face coverings in public, wash their hands regularly, and stay at least six feet away from others whenever possible, even as the state moves closer to the next phase of reopening.
With the entire state on pace to move to the next phase of reopening and easing some restrictions by May 29, Gov. JB Pritzker said he’s “very concerned” that Illinois could see another spike in cases in the fall, so it’s important for state officials to continue ramping up contact tracing efforts, and to keep alternate care facilities in place in case they’re needed down the road.
“For those who think, well, this is all dying out, it will all be fine by June, uh uh. I mean, unless there’s a vaccine or a very effective treatment. And, so, if it doesn’t go away – and I don’t think people are expecting it to – it means that we have to be ready for the potential of a surge,” he said.
Under Phase 3 of Restore Illinois, non-essential manufacturing, offices, and retail businesses would be allowed to reopen under approved safety guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health. Remote work, whenever possible, would still be encouraged.
Barber shops and salons would be allowed to reopen; and gyms and fitness clubs would be allowed to offer outdoor classes and one-on-one training; all with IDPH guidance. State parks also would be allowed to reopen, as would limited childcare and summer programs. Non-essential public gatherings of up to 10 people would be allowed, as opposed to the current limit of only essential gatherings of up to 10 people.
Earlier this week, Pritzker announced bars and restaurants also would be able open outdoor service during Phase 3, but still would not be allowed to serve customers indoors until Phase 4. Tables outdoors would have to be six feet apart from each other, and staff would have to wear face coverings and take other social distancing precautions.
The governor said state officials will “very soon” be releasing the safety guidelines businesses will need to reopen in Phase 3.
“We have guidance documents that are being prepared, work that’s already been done to make sure that people have enough time, we hope, to open safely,” he said.
Pritzker also said public health officials are working for guidelines for summer sports leagues to reopen, while still observing the state’s limit of 10 people on public gatherings.
“Again, more outdoor activity within the parameters of what the epidemiologists are saying, I want. I think it will be difficult to have crowds in the stands watching those games, but I know that there are Little League games and other sports during the summer that perhaps could happen. And again, we’re working with IDPH, or IDPH is working with folks who run those games to make sure that you know if you can do it, that they’re done safely,” he said.
The governor has spent the past two days in Springfield, where state lawmakers are meeting for three days to work out a state budget, to debate legislation for the COVID-19 outbreak, and other pressing matters.
Among the legislation being hammered out by the Illinois General Assembly, lawmakers are working on a measure to expand voting by mail in Illinois, so more people can fill out ballots at home, rather than going to polling places in November.
A House Committe has advanced legislation that would require election officials to send official vote-by-mail applications for the upcoming general election to anyone who applied for an official ballot in the 2018 general election, the 2019 municipal election, or the 2020 primary elections.
Some progressive critics have said the state should send vote-by-mail applications to every registered voter, while some Republicans have said the current proposal could lead to ballot stuffing, a notion Pritzker scoffed at.
“This has obviously been a Republican strategy all across the country to deny people the ability to actually go to the ballot box, or to deliver their ballot to vote. Republicans generally speaking have been in favor of suppressing the vote all across the nation. They think it’s bad for them if more people vote. I think everybody has the right to vote,” the governor said.
Pritzker said, while he would prefer more be done to allow people to vote by mail in Illinois, he believes the legislation under consideration now strikes a healthy balance.
“Sending out ballots, or rather applications, to everybody that voted in the last number of elections, and still giving everybody else the ability to apply to get a ballot, I think is a reasonable compromise, and gets us what we want, which is people don’t need to go to a physical balloting location,” he said.