SPRINGFIELD — The first novel coronavirus cases have been confirmed in central and southern Illinois, spanning eight counties, state officials said Saturday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s message to residents, as the state’s positive COVID-19 count reached 64, was clear at a news briefing in Chicago: Stay home.
“Once again, no matter how healthy you feel, if you can, stay home. If you are able to telework, do so. If you don’t have to travel, don’t,” he said. “This isn’t forever. This is a sacrifice in the short term. … Every action that we take to control the spread of this virus and prevent our medical infrastructure from dealing with too many cases at once is an action that saves lives.”
In addition to new cases in the northeastern corner of Illinois — seven in Chicago, four in suburban Cook County, one in Kane County and one in Lake County — the Illinois Department of Public Health announced four cases in other geographic regions.
Two women, one in her 60s and one in her 70s, were diagnosed in St. Clair County in the metro-east area. One man in his 70s tested positive in Cumberland County in southeast Illinois, as did one man in his 70s in Woodford County in central Illinois.
A woman in her 60s living in a long-term care facility located in DuPage County also has COVID-19, according to the Public Health Department. That location was “locked down to outside visitors,” Pritzker said, and state and local officials are identifying others there who might be at risk of contracting the virus.
“From what we’ve seen of this virus so far, older adults do tend to suffer more severe illness, and that’s why our focus will be on these populations,” Illinois’ Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, said Saturday. “Younger adults and children may have only mild illness, but if they attend larger events or come in contact with vulnerable populations, … that could cause spread of the virus. It will take all of us working together to help reduce the spread of this virus.”
There have been no deaths in Illinois related to COVID-19, she added. A number of the earliest diagnoses have made a full recovery.
State health officials warned those with heart disease, lung disease, weakened immune systems, cancer patients, elderly people and pregnant women are at the highest risk.
Of the 64 cases in Illinois, about one-third contracted the virus from travel, another third were sickened from being in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 and the remaining cases could be from community spread, Ezike said.
Pritzker’s call for residents to practice social distancing measures comes after he ordered all public and private schools to close for two weeks — from Tuesday, March 17, through Tuesday, March 31. He also banned any events with more than 1,000 people and urged those hosting events of 250 people or more to cancel them.
When asked if he would consider additional public health and safety mandates, Pritzker said his administration is “always looking at all the options,” but did not have any immediate plans.
“Counties and cities can make further restrictions if they choose,” Pritkzer added.
Tuesday is Illinois’ primary election, and state officials encouraged voters to cast their ballot by mail, submit it with the county clerk’s office or in person at an early-voting site. Polls will be open Tuesday as well.
“Stay well, stay safe, stay calm. It’s not a time for panic,” Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said. “It’s a time for listening to the advice and learning more to make sure you’re sharing good information.”
State officials strongly encouraged any Illinoisan who thinks they might have COVID-19 to call their health care provider as opposed to going to a medical office or the emergency room. Licensed Illinois physicians received guidance from the Public Health Department to analyze a patient’s symptoms over the phone and make a determination about whether that person should be screened in person.
Those with mild symptoms most likely do not need a coronavirus test, Ezike said. Instead, they will typically be asked to isolate themselves at home.
As of Friday, labs overseen by her department processed about 1,600 tests, representing more than 800 patients. Ezika warned that as commercial laboratories are able to handle tests, “we could see a dramatic increase of positives over the coming days and weeks.”
Pritkzer on Saturday also announced his administration planned to ask the federal government for permission to expand Medicaid coverage. If approved, Illinois could add new physicians to the program.
For those with general COVID-19 questions, the Department of Public Health maintains a hotline at 1-800-889-3931 and an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org).