33 new Illinois COVID-19 deaths, 1,453 new cases -- bringing total cases above 10,000
State health officials on Saturday announced 33 new coronavirus deaths and 1,453 more cases, bringing the total of confirmed cases in Illinois above 10,000 for the first time, while Gov. J.B. Pritzker elaborated on his recommendation to wear face masks in public.
Statewide, 243 residents have died from the disease since the outbreak began last month, and 10,357 people have been infected, public health director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said at Pritzker's daily news conference on the spread of the coronavirus.
The majority of cases are in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.
Asked if he was ordering people to wear masks when outside their homes, Pritzker said it's just his recommendation based on advice from experts.
"If you're in an area where you're not going to run into crowds of people, it is perfectly fine to walk around and just breathe the air without having to wear a mask," he said. "But if you're going into an area, stopping at a gas station, at a pharmacy, at a grocery store, or heading to one, it's a good idea, in my opinion, to wear one."
He reiterated that wearing masks is to help prevent the wearer from unwittingly spreading the virus to other people.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it "recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission."
Asked why the governor thinks some people still aren't obeying the state's ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, Pritzker replied, "Those people are either not paying attention to the news, or they are stupid."
Ezike reiterated the state's "All In" stance emphasizing the need for residents to stay at home. "By staying home, you reduce the amount of virus spreading in the community," she said. "That reduces the chance of someone being infected."
The directors of the state's Department of Children and Family Services, Health and Human Services and Veterans' Affairs offices spoke at Saturday's briefing. VA Director Linda Chapa La Via reported that one employee, who works at a center in Manteno, has a confirmed case of COVID-19. She said there are no known cases of COVID-19 disease among the agency's clients.
DCFS is allowing employees to do some telephone and videoconference visits with clients, acting director Marc Smith said. Caseworkers doing in-person visits have been equipped with gloves and sanitizing materials.
Benefits have been extended for its clients who have "aged out" of DCFS care. Payments to foster parents have also been temporarily increased, he said.
Pritzker continued to express his unhappiness about the federal government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While he said he's grateful that the feds have sent 500,000 N95 masks and about 450 ventilators to Illinois, Pritzker noted that the state had requested 7 million masks. And after learning that some of the ventilators the federal government sent to California didn't work, Illinois is now testing all the ventilators it received before distributing them to hospitals, he said.
"The federal government fell down on the job," he said.
Pritzker added that issuing stay-at-home orders "should have been the job of the federal government to give guidance, in fact, to set orders for the country because we know how this virus travels."
The governor said the federal government should have activated the Defense Production Act sooner. General Motors has said the ventilators it is making should be available in May, he said, but that Illinois expects its COVID-19 peak in mid- to late April.
Pritzker also criticized the nine states that have yet to issue statewide stay-at-home orders, which as of Saturday evening includes Illinois' western neighbor, Iowa.
"Obviously this has an effect on Illinois," he said.
• Capitol News Illinois contributed to this report.