Illinois cases rise by 236 amid effort to make more masks, other equipment

  • Gov. J.B. Pritzker, shown earlier, announces an increase in COVID-19 cases at a Monday briefing.

    Gov. J.B. Pritzker, shown earlier, announces an increase in COVID-19 cases at a Monday briefing. Associated Press

Updated 3/23/2020 5:59 PM

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday announced a private sector collaboration to increase production of personal protective equipment like masks to protect medical workers during the COVID-19 epidemic and a detente in his feud with President Donald Trump over supplies.

Officials also announced 236 more cases of the disease in Illinois, bringing the total number of cases to 1,285 in 31 counties.


The death toll in Illinois is now 12, with the three most recent fatalities being two men in their 80s and one man in his 90s, all from Cook County.

After sharp exchanges on Twitter over the weekend, Pritzker said he had a positive conversation with President Donald Trump around noon Monday about the need for ventilators and masks.

"The president was very responsive," Pritzker said during his daily briefing. He added Trump's reaction was "'What do you need? Let me see if I can get that for you.'"

Pritzker detailed a partnership with Illinois' bio-tech companies and the Illinois Manufacturers Association to start making equipment like N95 masks, gloves, gowns and sanitizer.

"I can't overstate how crucial this manufacturing capability will be in our fight against COVID-19," Pritzker said.

Illinois Biotechnology Innovation Organization CEO John Conrad said the high-tech companies "are ramping up efforts to study the virus and develop solutions to prevent, diagnose and treat this deadly infectious disease."

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The governor emphasized that the federal government has lagged in response to state requests for aid.

For example, the state asked for 4,000 respirators and received zero so far, and sought 2.3 million N95 masks and has been given 246,860, or 10%. A request for 7.4 million gloves was met with 325,082, or 4.4% -- although the feds delivered 111,978 of 120,000 face shields asked for, 93%.

Medical workers are "begging for supplies to keep them safe," Pritzker said.

One disconnect is that states like Illinois are competing with the federal government and other countries for supplies, which Pritzker said he asked Trump to resolve by utilizing the Defense Production Act.

Illinoisans infected with COVID-19 range from an infant to a 99-year-old. Across all six metro counties, there are: 922 confirmed cases in Cook including Chicago; 96 in Lake; 95 in DuPage; 24 in Will; 18 in Kane; and 12 in McHenry, according to state data.

A stay-at-home order was enacted at 5 p.m. Saturday across Illinois by Pritzker with the intent of reducing spread of COVID-19, a respiratory disease that can cause severe illness and pneumonia.


The order does not prevent people from essential errands including trips to grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies, for example.

"There's no attempt to prevent people's civil liberties," Pritzker said. "We just need to do this for a period of time so we can slow this virus down. We need to make sure we don't have hospitals overrun during this time period."

Illinois National Guard Adjutant General Richard R. Neely rejected rumors about guard members enforcing the order. "We are not doing any policing action," Neely said. "We're not bringing weapons, we're bringing our professional skills. What we are doing is supporting testing."

For example, Illinois National Guard troops were assisting with logistics so medical workers could test first-responders for COVID-19 at a site near Rosemont Monday, Neely said.

Massive numbers of Illinoisans filing for unemployment insurance this weekend ran into delays online. Pritzker said the state had switched to a more robust software system and was reorganizing staff to handle more phone calls.

Meanwhile, the state has executed contracts to buy 2.5 million N95 masks, along with gloves, surgical masks, and personal protection kits to supplement existing supplies.

Asked if the state had enough hospital beds, Pritzker said, "right now we're in decent shape across the state." He added the government is considering reopening four closed hospitals.

Once more COVID-19 tests are completed, the state should have sufficient data to determine if the stay-at-home order is working effectively, Pritzker noted.

"We want to make sure we're bending this curve," he said.

Pritzker asked businesses ranging from corporations to tattoo parlors to donate unused personal protective equipment supplies, listing as a contact email.

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