SPRINGFIELD – Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Sunday there are signs the COVID-19 outbreak is starting to level off, but he urged people to continue practicing social distancing to control the virus’ spread.
Speaking during an abbreviated Easter Sunday daily briefing in Chicago, Pritzker said the state is now conducting more testing than ever but that the percentage of tests coming back positive has remained almost exactly the same for the past two weeks, while the number of daily deaths appears to be dropping.
The news came as the Shelby County Health Department on Saturday announced the fourth Shelby County resident to test positive for coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The resident is a 31-year-old female and is currently self-isolating at her residence in Shelby County. She was tested at Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center in Mattoon, and immediately ordered to self-isolate. Health Department officials are working to identify all close contacts with this individual. Federal privacy restrictions prohibit the release of any additional information.
The Fayette County Health Department, meanwhile, confirmed Sunday its first COVID-19 death.
The patient was a female in her 90s who lived in a congregate facility, the department said in a news release. The department said there are six confirmed positive cases related to this same congregate facility. In all, 70 people have been tested for the virus in Fayette County, with 11 confirmed positive.
“It is important we as Fayette County residents all do our part to slow the spread of this disease. We cannot control the virus but we can control how it spreads,” said Administrator Melissa Storck.
Pritzker on Sunday said there had been 1,672 new confirmed cases reported of COVID-19 over the previous 24 hours, the highest daily total in Illinois so far in the pandemic, but he said that was largely due to increased testing. He also reported 43 deaths from the disease, the lowest daily total in the past six days.
“I pray as we move forward that these trends continue,” he said. “And if they do, it will be because of all of you, adhering to our stay-at-home order. Doctors and experts confirm the fact that, Illinois, having been the second state to announce a stay-at-home order, now seems to be reaching a peaking terminal term and our hopes have been coming to fruition.”
The Illinois Department of Public Health reported that 7,956 COVID-19 tests had been conducted over the previous 24 hours, the highest daily number so far, but still short of the stated goal of 10,000 tests per day.
There have now been more than 100,000 tests performed in Illinois, with a total of 20,852 confirmed cases and 720 fatalities.
Pritzker cautioned, however, that it was still too early to say whether the outbreak had peaked.
“What I look for is a leveling because the numbers had been going up exponentially,” Pritzker said. “And then they were going up arithmetically.”
Responding to questions from reporters, Pritzker said the stay-at-home order will remain in place until there is a significant drop in the number of active cases and hospitalizations. Even then, he said, the state will need to be cautious about returning to normal activity. The current order is through April 30.
“You still will only have had a certain percentage, a relatively low percentage in my opinion, maybe less than 20 percent of the public will have been exposed to COVID-19, will have had it and recovered from it. So you wouldn’t have herd immunity at that point,” he said. “So the question is how do you operate society when we begin to bring down the level of infection and make sure that people are able to begin to go back to work in various industries?”
“So I’m talking to industry leaders about that. I’m talking to economists about that,” he said. “I’m also very importantly listening to the scientists and the doctors to make sure that we do this right because what we don’t want … is to begin to open things up, and then have a big spike in infections, and you know unfortunately all the spikes that come with that including a spike of deaths. So we want to make sure we’re not doing that while we’re also looking at how we can get people back to work.”
Pritzker also said that while there were many things he’d hoped to accomplish legislatively this year, most of them are likely to be put off until next year. The Legislature has not been in session since March 5, and its return date is uncertain.
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Illinois was reported in Chicago on Jan. 24. The first confirmed case outside of Cook County was reported on March 11. The stay-at-home order has been in effect since March 16.