Illinois surpasses 3,000 COVID-19 deaths, 1 million unemployment claims processed
Illinois has passed another grim milestone as state officials have now recorded more than 3,000 deaths from COVID-19.
Another 138 people died in the past 24 hours, bringing the state's death toll from the coronavirus to 3,111.
After a two-week low of 46 deaths on Monday, the one-week average has stubbornly remained at 110 deaths per day. The average for the previous seven days was 96 deaths per day.
State health officials have been working to ramp up testing and are reporting the number of tests that come back positive, a key measurement for the five-step plan Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced this week to move toward fewer restrictions.
Of 17,783 new tests performed on Thursday, 2,641 were positive for COVID-19, dropping the state's daily infection rate below 15% for the first time since late March, when only a few thousand people were being tested each day.
Over the past week, the state has averaged more than 15,500 coronavirus tests daily, with 16.4% of the tests coming back positive for the disease.
But in the Northeast region, which includes Chicago and the suburbs, the infection rate was 21.9% as of Wednesday.
"I think we've successfully flattened the curve," Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. "It's stayed flat. We've been flat for some time now. Where we go from here is critical."
She urged residents to continue practicing social distancing methods in order to bend the curve downward.
"We now need to see what will happen with the new attitudes that are prevailing and the new behaviors that are prevailing," she said.
Under Pritzker's plan to move toward fewer restrictions, the state is divided into four regions, each of which can move independently through five phases.
To move to the next phase, the infection rate for the region must be at or below 20% for 14 consecutive days, the number of hospital admissions must be stable or decrease for 28 days, and hospitals in the region must maintain availability of 14% of the ICU beds, medical recovery beds and ventilators.
The infection rate for the Northeast region hasn't been below 20% on any day this month, according to the IDPH statistics website. The most recent figures released by IDPH Thursday showed an increase of hospital admissions on Monday with 29 additional patients in the region.
The number of infections statewide is 70,873 since the outbreak began.
Pritzker also announced a bleak statistic on unemployment for the state.
More than 1 million initial claims for unemployment benefits have been processed since March 1, he said.
To process the claims, the governor approved upgrades to the Department of Employment Security's operations, including a new call center to handle the increased demand for assistance.
"There will be 100 new agents by Monday," he said. "And we will continue to scale it up with 100 additional agents taking calls."
He praised IDES workers, saying they had worked thousands of hours in overtime to help families and upgrade the system. He said roughly 75% of claimants received their first payments within two weeks of filing, with Illinois being one of the first states to "implement the additional $600" weekly stipend approved to displaced workers through the federal CARES Act.
The governor, who has done 60 consecutive daily briefings since the outbreak began in mid-March, announced he will no longer be doing weekend briefings. He added that IDPH will continue to update statistics throughout the weekend, though.