White House Health Experts Worry Cook County May Be Among Nation's Next Hotspots

Chicago's total confirmed cases topped 1,000 Thursday, a number that is nearly double the amount of cases the entire state of Illinois had less than a week earlier

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Health experts are concerned that Cook County could be one of the nation's next coronavirus hotspots as the U.S., and Chicago, continue to battle a rising number of cases.

When asked about the country's next hotspots during a White House press briefing Thursday evening, Dr. Deborah Birx, who is on the coronavirus task force, cited Cook County among the places health experts are watching.

"We are concerned about certain counties that look like they are having a more rapid increase," she said. "Wayne County in Michigan and Cook County in Chicago."

Chicago topped 1,000 confirmed cases Thursday, nearly double the total number of cases all of Illinois was reporting less than a week earlier.

The city, which represents a majority of Cook County's cases, has so far seen nine fatalities out of 1,161 diagnoses and area officials expect that number to rise. County-wide, the total has reached close to 2,000.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady says the window to make moves and slow the spread of coronavirus in Chicago “is closing.”

Across Illinois, cases have quadrupled in less than a week.

The state reported 535 total confirmed cases last Friday, but by Thursday, that number climbed to 2,538, with 26 total deaths. Officials noted, however, that the state and city have also seen an increase in testing as the numbers continue to grow.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday the city could see upwards of 40,000 hospitalizations in the coming weeks as the coronavirus pandemic grips Chicago.

"Forty thousand hospitalizations. Not 40,000 cases, but 40,000 people who require acute care in a hospital setting," Lightfoot said. "That number will break our healthcare system... This will push our city to the brink."

So where does the 40,000 number come from?

"We are looking at a number of different projections based on modeling being done across the city," Lightfoot said. "That number is real and is sobering."

Allison Arwady, the commissioner for the Chicago Department of Public Health, said "the window to pursue a wide-ranging closing."

"The moves we make right now, really the next few weeks, are crucial," she said.

Chicago's Lakefront, along with the Chicago Riverwalk and the 606 Trail, were all shut down Thursday as the city works to keep people from congregating - as they did during warmer weather Wednesday - despite a statewide stay-at-home order.

"That is a very real and direct threat of the well-being of everyone in this city, and it has to stop," Chicago Parks CEO Michael Kelly said of the thousands who flocked to the lakefront this week.

On the same day Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned that she might be forced to shut down trails and beaches along Lake Michigan to enforce the state of Illinois’ “stay-at-home” order, Chicago police were busy Wednesday evening ordering beachgoers to go home. NBC 5’s Natalie Martinez reports.

Chicago police said they plan to enforce the 24-7 stay-at-home order rigorously, warning of citations and possibly even arrests for those found to be in violation.

"If you violate it, you are subject to a citation, a fine of up to $500 and if you continue to violate it, you will be subject to physical arrest," Interim Police Supt. Charlie Beck said.

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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