State records 1,529 more COVID-19 cases, 82 more deaths, but there's a 'glimmer of hope'
A total of 1,529 more Illinoisans tested positive for COVID-19 with a single-day record of 82 deaths, but within those grim statistics are some "glimmers of hope" the state may be nearing a peak, health experts said Wednesday.
The number of people who've died from the respiratory disease totals 462, while the number of confirmed cases grew to 15,078, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said.
Wednesday's deaths, combined with the 73 deaths reported Tuesday from COVID-19, account for one-third of Illinois' deaths so far.
"These are the highest numbers to date, and although they're still increasing, I will tell you -- the rate at which they are increasing is less," Ezike said at the state's daily briefing. "That is a good sign. We're not seeing the exponential growth we've seen before."
"With guarded optimism we hope we get to either the peak or the plateau. It's not clear yet how long that would be," she explained.
Reaching a peak does not mean fatalities or infections will suddenly drop sharply, medical experts said.
For context, on March 30, 73 Illinoisans died of COVID-19. On March 31, 99 died, 26 more than the previous day, or a 35.6% increase.
In comparison, although the total tally of deaths announced Wednesday is staggering, the increase in fatalities from Tuesday to Wednesday is about 2.37%.
Amid such "glimmers of hope," Illinoisans cannot drop their guard, officials said.
"We are seeing changes in the numbers, and that has directly to do with the orders that we put in place ... people staying at home, people washing their hands, wearing masks -- these all have an effect on the infection rate in Illinois," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.
Pritzker also addressed lags in COVID-19 testing, saying 10 days ago he had promised 10,000 tests a day.
"We have only recently surpassed 6,000," he said. One reason is that recently purchased machines to extract genetic material, or RNA, used in COVID-19 testing aren't providing "the level of output we want to see and ... they are not producing valid results," Pritzker said.
The state is working with supplier Thermo Fisher Scientific to reach expected results of 200 tests per hour.
And despite hopes Illinois would benefit from a rapid COVID-19 test developed by Deerfield-based Abbott Labs, distribution of those tests are largely in the hands of the federal government.
The state intends, however, to expand testing through Illinois research institutions, hospitals and state labs that have already pioneered homegrown innovations, Pritzker said.
Ezike was asked about tests for people already infected with COVID-19 and what role they could play in deciding whether those individuals could return to work and be immune.
The tests should play a critical role in helping identify people who have overcome COVID-19, but Ezike cautioned the state is still learning about the process.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is considering guidelines for allowing people exposed to COVID-19 but who are not showing symptoms back in public.
State officials said they wanted to read the CDC guidance first.
"This will help us going forward with the restarting of the economy," Pritzker said, but added there has to be assurances someone going back to work after recovering from COVID-19 does not carry the infection on clothing, for example.
Illinois National Guard Adjutant General Richard Neely said it's possible a temporary hospital at McCormick Place could open next week, although myriad items like a pharmacy are still yet to be completed.
Chicago is instituting a 9 p.m. liquor sales curfew, but Pritzker said he would leave it up to local mayors and county leaders to make that decision rather than enact a statewide rule.
The state has a stay-at-home order in effect through April 30, and officials are urging residents to avoid outside gatherings despite the pleasant weather and the pull of Passover and Easter, when families and worshippers typically congregate.
Ezike said she'd received "multiple requests" from congregations hoping to gather safely, but "please stay at home," she urged, adding that worship gathering "are ill-advised at this time."