As Cook County's total number of reported coronavirus cases nears 60,000, the county marked an unsettling new milestone.
Data showed the northern Illinois county surpassed Queens County in New York for the most infections in the U.S. this week.
As of Friday, Cook County sat at 59,905 confirmed cases. At the same time, Queens reported 58,516 cases. According to the most recent data from Johns Hopkins University, that puts Cook County at the highest in the U.S.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike chalked up Cook County's new title to increased testing in Illinois, and noted that many remain untested.
"I just want to make sure that everyone is clear that having higher counts of increasing our testing - no one in the country has captured all of the cases of COVID-19," Ezike said. "They have captured cases for which people have been tested, and not everybody has been tested. So I think it's a credit that we have been able to ramp up testing throughout the state. This is getting us closer to actual numbers, but it's falling far, far, far below the actual numbers. We obviously want to promote testing, we want to get as many people tested as possible, and to do that, we have to keep ramping up our capacity."
Ezike noted that two weeks ago Illinois was testing between 5,000 and 7,000 specimens per day. Now, the state is reporting over 20,000.
"So that's a significant jump, which appropriately has resulted in a significant increase in the number of cases identified," she said. "So I don't want to get that point lost. That the number of cases that we're identifying is proportional to the number of tests and we've increased our cases because we've increased the amount of testing we've done and we hope to keep doing that. So you actually will see more cases because we will continue to ramp up our testing."
As of Thursday, Cook County, which includes Chicago and many surrounding suburbs, reported a total of 263,831 tests conducted. As of Friday afternoon, Queens County reported only 176,715.
Cook County also has nearly half the rate per capita as Queens, however, with a population of roughly 5.2 million compared to Queens' nearly 2.3 million, according to the Johns Hopkins University data.
The northern Illinois county is also on track to meet the metrics needed to move to the next phase of reopening later this month.
"Every region is so far meeting all the metrics," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday.
Earlier this week, the Northeast region, which includes Cook County, was not hitting the numbers required to enter phase three of the state's five-phased reopening plan. As of Thursday, however, the region's positivity rate fell just below the threshold needed - one of multiple factors required.
In order to enter phase three, a region "will be required to have a positivity rate of 20% or less and an increase of no more than 10% over a 14-day period."
According to data provided by the governor, the Northeast region reported a positivity rate of 19.9% as of Thursday.
Other factors include hospitalization rates, bed availability and ventilator availability.
No region can officially move forward until May 29, under the parameters of the governor's plan.