160 new deaths bring state's COVID-19 toll past 5,000; contact tracing ramping up

  • Around 135 signs with messages thanking front-line and health care workers were placed near Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital and around Lake Barrington.

      Around 135 signs with messages thanking front-line and health care workers were placed near Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital and around Lake Barrington. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, May 6, 2020

 
 
Updated 5/27/2020 6:49 PM
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct that the state announced 160 more deaths Wednesday.

The state's death toll from COVID-19 infections surpassed 5,000 Wednesday as state health officials announced another 160 residents died from the disease.

Another 1,111 residents were infected as well, officials said in their daily update.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The state is reporting 5,083 total deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began and 114,306 residents have been infected.

However, the state's rolling seven-day infection rate is now at 8.6% and has been below 10% for a full week now, according to Illinois Department of Public Health figures. The rate indicates not only the scale of the disease but the amount of testing being done, both important factors in assessing the spread of the disease. The Chicago and suburban region's average infection rate is currently 14.3%, well below the 20% average needed to move to the next phase of reopening.

The state is ramping up contact tracing efforts for those sickened by the virus in an attempt to limit the public's exposure to those who may be infected but not know it.

"We're at about 30% of the contact tracing we need to be doing," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said during Wednesday's briefing. "We need to get above 60%."

The state is on a hiring blitz to train workers for the jobs of notifying people who had direct contact for more than 10 minutes with someone who tested positive for the virus.

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"We're never going to get to 100% because there are just some people who don't want to be contacted or will never answer their phone," Pritzker said.

The state is working with county health departments to perform the work and are allocating funds to provide more jobs. In all, the program will cost roughly $80 million, state officials said.

When people test positive for the virus, they are asked to provide names of individuals who were in direct contact for periods of 10 minutes or longer. Those people are notified and advised to isolate themselves for 14 days. The infected patients are not named, officials said.

The state has hundreds of trained contact tracers already employed because of other infectious disease reporting requirements, but the quick spread of the coronavirus requires a larger scale army of tracers -- upward of 4,000 employees.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Training for contact tracing is free and the governor added it could lead to a career for many of those who apply. Workers are also needed to steer those potentially infected to resources like alternate housing and food during isolation.

Pritzker said state health officials were expecting to reach their contact goals by August, but he hopes it will happen sooner.

The ultimate goal of the program is to reduce the potential of a second wave of COVID-19 cases as the state slowly reopens this week after months of limiting contact.

State and federal health officials have noted that without a vaccine for the virus there's always a risk cases could surge.

However, Illinois is past its peak, Pritzker noted Tuesday. He pointed to several key metrics, including the growth of new cases and hospitalizations.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 infections across the state were listed at 3,826 Wednesday.

The number of those patients in intensive care beds was 1,031, according to state figures. But hospitals in the state reported more vacant ICU beds than those occupied by COVID-19 patients.

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