State officials as virus deaths approach 3,000: 'Virtual hugs' best on Mother's Day
Deaths from COVID-19 rose by 136 Wednesday, a decrease from Tuesday's high of 176, but "the virus hasn't gone away," officials announced as they cautioned against large Mother's Day gatherings.
"Virtual hugs" are the safest way to celebrate Mother's Day with loved ones who are not in your immediate family circle, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said at a briefing.
The total number of Illinoisans who've died from COVID-19 was 2,974 as of Wednesday, and cases of the disease grew by 2,270 for a statewide tally of 68,232.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker defended a new five-phase plan to move toward easing the state's stay-at-home order. The plan allows for each of four regions of the state to move independently through the phases, which range from Phase 1, with widespread infection, to Phase 5, with businesses and entertainment open, with precautions.
Phase 5 could be well over a year away, officials said, and depends on a vaccine being available, an effective and widely available treatment, or the elimination of new cases in a region.
"I'm not the one holding back the economy from stage five; the COVID-19 virus is," Pritzker said. "That's the thing that's been causing the very high infection rates, the hospitalizations and the deaths."
"Let's be clear: The virus hasn't gone away, and nothing we're doing now has changed that fact," he said.
Although the number of deaths in a single day decreased Wednesday, the tally of 136 is the fourth highest to date.
The 2,270 new cases of COVID-19 in one day is the sixth highest so far; the largest increase was on May 1, 3,137.
Meanwhile, people being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals rose to 4,832, Ezike said. The seven-day average is 4,768.
The vast majority of people dying of the disease are people age 60 and older and Ezike urged Illinoisans not to pay social visits on Mother's Day.
"Our elderly people are still at high risk, and we don't want to put anyone at risk, especially our most vulnerable," Ezike said. The physician added that she and her siblings drop things off at her mother's door rather than get too close.
Also Wednesday, Pritzker and Latino health experts discussed data showing that of 26,517 Hispanic residents tested for COVID-19, 15,959 or 60% were positive, about three times the state average. Pritzker attributed that to "decades of disparities in health care access and delivery."
Officials said they are working to increase access to testing by offering Spanish translation services at drive-through test sites including in Aurora and clinics including the Greater Elgin Family Care Center.
On Tuesday, Pritzker outlined a five-phase plan to reopen the state by region, with Chicago and the suburbs included in the Northeast region. Others are the North-Central, Central and Southern Illinois regions.
The entire state remains in Phase 2 of Pritzker's plan, dubbed "flattening," where the rate of infections and admissions to hospitals is slowing and moving to a flat or decreasing curve.
Phase 3, dubbed "recovery," would allow gatherings of 10 or more, reopen barbershops and salons, and let customers into retail stores with capacity limits. Schools would remain closed.
Some suburban Republican lawmakers argue the regional approach injures communities with low COVID-19 numbers by lumping them in with Chicago.
"I have supported the governor in his health care measures to date," GOP state Sen. Don DeWitte of St. Charles said. But "Kane and McHenry counties cannot survive in any category of reopening -- be it socially, economically, educationally or spiritually -- waiting for Chicago and Cook County to manage its challenges in dealing with the coronavirus."
The single-day death tally included 83 in Cook County, 12 in DuPage County, nine in Kane County, 11 in Lake County, two in McHenry County and 10 in Will County.
The regions are based on "hospital beds, and health care workers, (and) how much health care is available if there is a surge," Pritzker said.
"I am sure there are a lot of opinions about how you could draw the lines," he said, adding several DuPage County mayors told him they wanted "just to draw lines around their city."
"They were drawn because we wanted to make sure there is health care availability," Pritzker said.
• Capitol News Illinois contributed to this report.