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In Tuesday afternoon's press briefing, Gov. JB Pritzker said that this week Illinois surpassed New York as the state that is doing the most COVID-19 testing, on a per capita basis, in the country.
"There is much more work to do to advance testing to make it even more widely available," Pritzker said.
Also on Tuesday, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said there has been some evidence which makes her hopeful that the trend of new coronavirus cases in the state "may be going down" for the first time.
"We may be heading downward now, again, with more and more days behind us we can follow and see is this a blip or is it really consistently going down," Ezike said. "We're hoping that we are there."
Illinois residents are now eligible for free testing through any of the state's public testing locations. According to Pritzker, this includes residents with COVID-19 symptoms, residents who may have come into contact with someone diagnosed with the virus and residents with a compromised immune system or serious medical condition.
It also includes "anyone who works in a healthcare facility, anyone who works in correctional facilities such as jails or prisons, anyone who works as a government employee at any level of government," he said.
First responders and supporters of "critical infrastructure" such as grocery store or pharmacy workers are also eligible to receive free testing at this time. Factories, childcare agencies, restaurants and gas stations are also considered "critical infrastructure," Pritzker said.
"As testing expands, so too will the criteria allowing more people to get a test," he said.
A full list of public testing sites can be found on the State of Illinois' COVID-19 website.
As the state prepares to move into phase three of Restore Illinois, Pritzker said further improvements to testing and contact tracing measures will be essential to ensuring a smooth transition.
"Public health means that each of us is working to protect all of us," he said, "It's about our collective impact on each other."
In response to criticism from lawmakers and local government officials that his plan moves too slowly for some areas of the state, Pritzker said the five-phase plan has the state reopening more quickly than President Trump's briefly-proposed federal COVID-19 response plan would have.
Later in the briefing, Pritzker said there will be no flexibility in adhering to the plan's timeline requiring periods of at least 28 days between each phase. The area where the governor's team is more likely to be flexible is in working with businesses to incorporate feedback on how different restrictions set by the plan are impacting their operations, he said.
Dr. Richard Novak, head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Illinois Health System, gave a report on Tuesday on how the state's ability to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections has led to a "slow but measurable decline" in hospital admissions across the state.
Novak said Illinois hospitals have begun receiving shipments of the drug Remdesivir, which has been found to be effective in reducing the severity of COVID-19 symptoms.
Novak's team has now launched a second study which will look at the effects of combining the use of Remdesivir with a second drug called baricitnib.
"By all measures, it appears we're making slow but steady process controlling the pandemic here in Illinois," Novak said. "...The search for new treatments and prevention strategies is moving at an unprecedented rate."
Novak encouraged Illinoisans to participate in trials of COVID-19 treatments like Remdesivir, some of which are being conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Executive Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Control at University of Chicago Medicine, Dr. Emily Landon, also made a virtual appearance in Tuesday's briefing to give Illinois residents a few words of encouragement.
"I know a lot of you will also look back on this and wonder why we had to stay at home since nothing awful happened," Landon said. "But, like I said in March, this exactly is the mark of success."
Landon said that, in order to ensure further success in controlling the virus, masks and face coverings must become as normal as wearing pants.
"It says to others that you're not giving up and you're not giving in because you're in this fight and you're in it to win," she said.
Illinois reported 1,545 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday and 146 additional deaths.
Of the deaths reported on Tuesday, 95 were Cook County residents, accounting for 65% of the day's total.
There were two new deaths reported in DeKalb County, 13 deaths were reported in DuPage County, five in Kane County, three in Kankakee County, one in Kendall County, four in Lake County, two in McHenry County, one in Whiteside and five in Will County, according to IDPH data.
To date, there have been 98,030 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Illinois and 4,379 total deaths. A total of 621,684 coronavirus tests have been conducted throughout the state, according to the IDPH.
Tuesday's daily positivity rate was just 8%, according to Ezike. The results of 18,443 coronavirus tests were reported in the 24 hours leading up to Tuesday afternoon, she said. The seven-day rolling average of the state's positivity rate has hovered around 14%.
"Hear me clearly: the virus is still out there," Ezike said. "...Keeping your distance from other people is still the way to stop and minimize the spread."
As of Tuesday, there were 4,002 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois. Of these people, 993 were in Intensive Care Units and 576 were on ventilator support, according to Ezike.
All four health regions remain on track to proceed to phase three of the Restore Illinois plan on May 29.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the state's Northeast health region (Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, McHenry, Lake and Will counties) had a positivity rate of 17.5%, marking a 5 percentage point decrease over the last two weeks.
The Northeast region has seen a 41.8% decrease in hospital admissions since May 1 and has enough available hospital beds to accommodate a 17.6% surge in COVID-19 cases, according to IDPH data.
The North-Central region (Bureau, DeKalb, La Salle, Lee, Ogle, Whiteside, Carroll, Boone, Winnebago, Stephenson, Putnam and Jo Daviess counties) reported a positivity rate of just 7% and has seen a 44.3% decrease in hospital admissions since May 1 with enough hospital bed capacity to accommodate a 41.4% surge in cases.
The Central region had a positivity rate of 3.8% and has seen a 32.6% decrease in hospital admissions since May 1. This region has enough available beds to accommodate a 49.5% surge in cases.
The state's Southern region reported a positivity rate of 6.1% on Tuesday with hospital admissions having declined by 63.7% since May 1. The Southern region's surge capacity is at 46.6%.
Newly reported deaths
- Coles County: 1 female 60s, 1 female 90s
- Cook County: 3 females 30s, 2 males 40s, 2 females 50s, 5 males 50s, 4 females 60s, 12 males 60s, 1 unknown 60s, 8 females 70s, 17 males 70s, 9 females 80s, 15 males 80s, 9 females 90s, 6 males 90s, 1 female 100+, 1 male 100+
- DeKalb County: 1 female 50s, 1 male 50s
- DuPage County: 1 male 50s, 1 male 60s, 2 females 70s, 1 male 70s, 4 females 80s, 1 male 80s, 1 female 90s, 1 male 90s, 1 female 100+
- Iroquois County: 1 male 60s
- Kane County: 1 male 70s, 2 females 80s, 1 male 80s, 1 female 100+
- Kankakee County: 2 males 60s, 1 female 70s
- Kendall County: 1 male 80s
- Lake County: 1 male 60s, 1 female 70s, 1 female 80s, 1 male 80s
- Madison County: 2 females 80s, 1 female 90s
- McDonough County: 1 male 80s
- McHenry County: 1 male 50s, 1 male 60s
- Rock Island County: 1 male 30s, 1 male 60s, 1 male 90
- St. Clair County: 1 male 60s, 1 female 80s, 1 male 80s
- Whiteside County: 1 female 100+
- Will County: 2 males 70s, 1 female 80s, 1 male 80s, 1 male 90s
- Winnebago County: 1 female 70s, 1 male 70s