coronavirus

Read Gov. JB Pritzker’s Powerful Message on Coronavirus Toll in Illinois

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivered a powerful speech during his daily coronavirus briefing for me. Read the full text of what he said below.

Well hello everyone and thank you all for joining us again this afternoon. Today, in addition to our IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, I'm here with our Illinois National Guard Director Brigadier General Richard R. Neely and Dr. Omar Latif, the CEO of Rush University Medical Center.

During yesterday's public update, we focused on personal protective equipment or PPE. Illinois hospitals and nursing homes and first responders source and stock their own PPE, as does the city of Chicago due to its size. The state backs up all of these institutions including the city and the entire state in times of surge, which is why we're doing everything in our power to acquire massive sums of PPE from across the global supply chain to Illinois.

PPE is only one part, although a critical part, of our multifaceted approach to tackling COVID-19, and today, I want to talk to you about some of the important pieces of the puzzle that we've been working on. And I want to provide you with some of the data that's guiding my decision making.

March 24 briefing: Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, tears up while discussing four additional coronavirus-related deaths in Illinois, lifting the state total to 16.

First, let's talk about testing capacity. Testing is important not only as an important individual and their doctor so they can know how best to treat the symptoms that a patient is feeling, but also so that we as a state can understand the scale and severity of the outbreak across Illinois. There are Illinois counties with higher concentrations of COVID-19 cases than others. And we also have counties with only a few documented positives, where none of their surrounding counties have any positive cases. Testing helps demonstrate the actual reach of COVID-19 and informs us how we can potentially isolate the outbreak, even as we work to flatten the curve. In the words of the director general of the World Health Organization, you cannot fight the fire blindfolded. We cannot stop this pandemic if we don't know who's infected. Test, test, test.

In February, we were among the first states to bring our own state laboratories online, providing us with critical early capacity. At the time, we were able to run around 50 tests per day. Today we can do nearly 2,000 tests per day from all sources with our state labs now running 600 tests per day in all three locations - Chicago, Springfield, and Carbondale. A lot of work has gone up into building up our testing capacity and there's still a lot more work to be done.

On Sunday and Monday, we began drive through testing at for state and federal facilities. The Illinois National Guard opened our first entirely state-run drive-through testing facility in northwest Chicago, the Harwood heights community-based testing site. This site is designed especially to collect specimens from our healthcare workers and first responders and at current capacity. They can collect 250 specimens per day. Senior members of the US Department of Health and Human Services were out to survey that site this last weekend and they called our setup a national model that they hope to replicate in other states. I want to commend Brigadier General Rich Neely, our National Guard soldiers and our teams at CMS, IDPH and IEMA for their exceptional work bringing this site online.

March 24 briefing: Brig. Gen. Richard Neely, Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard, addresses balancing needs inside hospitals and at coronavirus testing sites in Illinois.

Over the last few days federal HHS has also set up sites in Bolingbrook. North Lake and Joliet with private partners Walgreens and Walmart. These sites can run close to 100 tests per day as is and up to 250 each with expanded staffing here in Illinois. Our residents also have access to for commercial labs and 15 hospital labs that in total average about 1,500 tests per day on top of our state lab output. That's of course on top of the 600 per day that we run at our state labs. IDPH is working with some hospitals to stand up their own new labs, providing positive specimens to hospitals for validation, so they can come online faster. As we speak, labs at places like North Shore Hospital and Southern Illinois University are expanding their capacity with additional equipment and supplies, with an expected additional capacity of 2,805 daily tests in two weeks. That will bring our in-state testing to more than 4,300 per day.

Now, even with this rapid expansion we still need tens of thousands more tests to get an accurate picture of our state that's within our reach. Though standing up additional hospital lab sites will be required and mobile testing sites will be required across the state - and we're doing that - with the continued consistent delivery of necessary supplies such as reagent and viral transport media we can get this job done.

Of course, nationally and here in Illinois, we are beyond the moment where testing alone can be our primary weapon against this virus. We can't just test, we have to treat. It's true that the vast majority of people will recover from COVID-19 on their own without hospitalization, and without a specific therapy. But what we need to do is to ensure that our healthcare system can fully support and care for those who won't easily recover. One aspect of that is our healthcare workforce, those on the frontlines fighting COVID-19 every day. And I'm very proud to say that since my call to action this weekend for those qualified to join the fight. We have had hundreds of nurses and doctors and other health care workers reach out to us and let us know that they are interested in helping. The application went live yesterday and in just 24 hours we've already received 180 applications from individuals ready and willing to rejoin the healthcare workforce. I encourage anybody who's interested to go to our coronavirus.illinois.gov website, and you'll be able to access the necessary forms for IDFPR to join our healthcare workforce.

Another piece of this puzzle is our hospital infrastructure. Right now in Illinois we have about 26,000 non-ICU beds, of which nearly 13,000 are currently available. We have nearly 2,600 adult ICU beds across the state of which about 1,100 are currently available. Those numbers are fairly standard, but we know that they will not stay that way.

I want to take a moment now to provide you with a fuller picture of what we could be dealing with in the near future. As I've said, you deserve honesty and transparency on the gravity of our situation, and the reasoning behind the aggressive measures like the stay-at-home order that I've put in place. In our worst case scenario projections, that is without the stay-at-home order, in one week, we would need over 2,500 more non-ICU beds and 800 ICU beds, than we have in existence in the entire state today. Further still, in two weeks, we would need over 28,000 additional non-ICU beds and over 9,400 additional ICU beds. That's untenable. The board next to me offers a moment in time snapshot of our current capacity and how these projections would stand up. As you can see what we've seen in other countries of COVID-19's ability to overwhelm the system could happen here, too. We are not immune.

But again, those are worst case scenario projections, with no interventions. Instead what we've done already in Illinois is put in place a two-pronged approach to make sure a worst case scenario does not become our reality. First, we've put in place protective measures to suppress the spread of COVID-19. That's our stay-at-home order limits on gatherings closing our schools, closing restaurants and bars and social distancing guidelines. These are the steps that we've taken over the past two weeks to flatten the curve and prevent to rapid an increase in new cases. Second, we're working to increase our healthcare capacity overall statewide, so that when we do arrive at our next phase, we will have the capacity to meet that much greater need. IEMA and DPH have taken a multifaceted approach to increasing capacity- building up our triage units at hospitals, bringing offline hospitals and hotels online and expanding capacity in existing hospitals by acquiring critical equipment like ventilators to care for the most severe cases of COVID-19. IEMA has deployed 49 triage tents, 40 outside of Cook County, to set up triage units outside of hospitals to safely and efficiently evaluate potential COVID-19 patients. In total, 66 of our over 200 hospitals statewide have set up triage tents with IEMA or on their own

IEMA is currently working with 26 additional hospitals to set up triage centers, and my team and I will make sure that each and every one of those hospitals has what they need to get a triage center going. Rush University Medical Center has been a true leader in this work and Rush CEO Dr. Latif will talk more about this approach in just a few moments. IDPH, IEMA, the Illinois National Guard and the US Army Corps of Engineers are in the process of investigating closed hospitals that could temporarily reopen to support our COVID-19 response. In a worst case scenario surge, the state would turn existing hospitals into almost entirely COVID-19 response hospitals, moving non-COVID patients to other hospitals including these re-outfitted locations. The number one difference between a standard bed, and a COVID-equipped bed is a ventilator. Right now, in Illinois we have about 2,200 ventilators all across the state, of which 1,600 are currently available. In the worst-case-scenario projections that I discussed earlier, we would need over 4,100 more ventilators to outfit our ICU beds within two weeks. Again, that's a projection based on no protective interventions. My team and I are pursuing every option to increase our state's supply of ventilators including working with scientists and experts in Illinois and beyond to pursue innovative new equipment options.

Yesterday I spoke with President Trump to walk him through Illinois' immediate needs: millions of N95 masks and hundreds of ventilators just in the near term. President Trump promised assistance and yesterday afternoon, the White House notified us that we will be receiving 300 more ventilators and 300,000 N95 masks from FEMA in the coming days. On that call, I also urged the president to invoke the Defense Production Act. I know I sound like a broken record, but if I have to stand here every single day until I'm blue in the face and advocate that the federal government fully utilize this act, then I will. This is the reality. There is a finite supply of critical resources available around the world right now. There is an enormous supply of governors and countries trying to get those resources. We need the full might of the federal government to obtain and allocate things like ventilators and PPE. I know there are businesses out there right now working on turning production toward these critical needs and I've been vocal about how grateful I am to the manufacturing community for the most part, who is, which is stepping up to try and help, but there is no way that these companies can ramp up fast enough to get us everything that we need in the time that we need it. Illinois had some of the earliest COVID-19 cases, and we were among the states with the highest number of positive cases - and we are still right now. We need to be a priority when it comes to ventilators and N95 masks, especially of all the reasons that the federal government lists. This is the most important, and the most basic. We are on a wartime footing right now. And we need an allocation of resources to the frontlines that prioritizes where the battle is being waged most aggressively.

I will continue to pound the table to get the federal government to acquire the supplies that our state's so critically need, and to allocate them accordingly. Lives depend upon it.

A question that everyone wants answered right now is how long is all of this going to last. The honest answer is we don't yet know. I know that's hard to accept but it's honest, and I'm determined to be honest with you, above all else. The battle against this virus is a daily struggle and our best minds and our bravest souls are suited up against it. I have tremendous faith in their ability to conquer it. But we have to give them the time and the space to do what they need to do. I want to be 100% clear about what will drive my decision making in the weeks ahead: Science. I understand how difficult it is to see the economy slow down and watch friends and neighbors laid off from jobs, those concerns, keep me up at night too. But I will say again, you can't have a livelihood without a life. As long as Americans still have breath in their lungs, we will find a way to survive and thrive. We can revive our economy. We can't revive the people that are lost to this virus.

Finally, there has been some talk over the last 24 hours by some about who this nation might be willing to sacrifice to COVID-19, for the sake of our economic interests. Well, in case there's any doubt in your minds. I'm not willing to sacrifice anyone. There is no life in this state that is more or less precious than any other. No person more or less worthy of saving. I want grandparents around to help raise their grandchildren. I want people to spend years after this is over, celebrating birthdays and wedding anniversaries and healthy retirements. I want Illinois to continue to be enriched by its young and old residents alike. Our economic strength comes from our diversity in this state, and the hard won experiences of our citizens. Without that we are nothing. With it, there is nothing that we cannot overcome.

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