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Three more people have died in Illinois from the COVID-19 virus, bringing the state’s death toll to four people, Gov. JB Pritzker said Thursday afternoon’s news conference on the coronavirus.
“My heart goes out to the family and the friends of these patients and I feel like I can speak for all of Illinois when I say we offer them our collective strength,” Pritzker said.
Among the three deaths announced today was a man in his 50s from Will County, a woman in her 80s from Cook County and a Florida woman who was visiting Sangamon County, he said.
On Thursday, 134 new cases of COVID-19 were announced for a total of 422 cases throughout the state, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
According to a news release from the IDPH, “the number of COVID-19 cases being reported is rising quickly, partly because of the increase in testing by commercial and hospital laboratories.”
“But the growing number of cases also reflects a rapid spread of disease across communities,” according to the news release.
According to the IDPH, there are five new counties reporting COVID-19 cases – Jackson, Kankakee, La Salle, Washington and Williamson. A total of 3,151 tests have been done in the state, an increase of about 1,000 from the previous day. Prtizker said the state could reach 2,000 tests a day, statewide, in a few days.
“Our social distancing efforts are the most important thing that we can do to protect our seniors and to support our health care workers,” Pritzker said.
In order to ensure that older, more at-risk residents feel safe leaving their home for food, grocery stores throughout the state will now have special hours of operation where traffic is limited strictly to senior citizens, Pritzker said.
“This dedicated period will also feature heightened social distancing measures,” he said. “You should contact your local store to find out what the hours are that they have reserved.”
Pritzker announced that he will sign an executive order today which will expand telemedicine coverage for Illinois residents with Medicaid as well as those who are privately insured.
Increased use of telemedicine programs will allow Illinois residents to consult with clinicians about milder health issues without further overburdening health care facilities, Pritzker said.
The state has activated members of the Illinois National Guard to join the fight against COVID-19, Pritzker said.
“The guard will be working to support our efforts to set up mobile testing units, allowing us to expand testing while ensuring that those tests can be administered in the safest possible way,” he said.
“The guard is also doing critical work planning for the weeks and months ahead including expanding our health care capacity by potentially refitting and reopening previously closed hospitals.”
Pritzker said his administration has even considered the possibility of constructing a new “field hospital” to provide more beds for COVID-19 patients.
The pandemic is expected to do significant damage to the state’s economy – a blow which the governor said his administration is already taking steps to soften.
“My administration is offering relief to more than 20,000 small and medium-sized bars and restaurants all across Illinois by allowing a two-month delay in sales tax payments to the state and to local jurisdictions,” Pritzker said.
“As of today, Illinois’ small businesses from every county in Illinois are now eligible to apply for low-interest coronavirus disaster assistance loans of up to two million dollars,” he said.
Small business owners can find more information on how to apply at disasterloan.sba.gov.
At the end of his initial address on Thursday, Pritzker said he wanted to dispel any rumors that may be circulating around the state’s response to the pandemic.
“Interstates, highways and bridges will stay open,” he said. “Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations – these sources of fundamental supplies will continue to operate.”