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COVID-19 cases expected to peak in mid-May, Gov. JB Pritzker says

By Sarah Schulte and Eric Horng, ABC7 News

Governor JB Pritzker said Illinois may not reach a peak in COVID-19 infections until mid-May as health officials announced 1,551 new cases and 119 additional deaths on Tuesday.

There are now 33,059 patients who have tested positive for coronavirus in Illinois, including 1,468 deaths.

Weeks ago, it was thought that Illinois would peak in mid-to-late April. The fact that we’re now looking at mid-May is evidence that social distancing efforts are working, Pritzker said.

“I want to caution that there isn’t, I don’t think there’s going to be some mass opening of lots and lots of businesses on May 1,” Gov. Pritzker said. “We will be making some changes to the stay-at-home order as it is.”

While other states are opening their economies, Gov. Pritzker said that will probably not happen anytime soon in Illinois.

“In order for us to truly open things up, we need tracing, we need testing, we need a treatment available and we need a widespread availability of PPE, and we don’t have those things available to use today,” Gov. Pritzker said.

While the state can’t control a treatment, the governor said the state is working on testing, tracing and PPE. When the time comes to reopen, Gov. Pritzker said many questions remain unanswered about how businesses can do it safely, especially with a short supply of masks and hand sanitizer.

“There’s no doubt that hand sanitizer and the use of PPE is going to be an important part of that,” Pritzker said. “Will businesses provide PPE? That’s a question. Will hand sanitizer be available to everybody that walks in the door? Should it be required?”

ZIP CODE TRACKER: Where is coronavirus in Illinois?

Gov. Pritzker added that, according to federal guidelines, he cannot reopen the economy until 14 days after cases decline.

With a new projected peak, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has canceled May and early June festivals including the Memorial Day Parade, Gospel and Blues Fests.

“I would expect an extension of the stay-at-home order and the other orders that were put in place as a result of the response to COVID-19 to go through sometime in May,” Lightfoot said. “That certainly could go into June, but June 30th, which is kind of an outside marker.”

“To remove it – as I see some other governors may want to do – to remove it entirely is to simply open everything up to infection,” Pritzker said.

Even before Illinois reopens, the CDC is warning of a second wave of the virus in the fall, which could be devastating if it coincides with a bad flu season.

“Without treatment, without a vaccine for COVID, those two overlaid could be very, very problematic,” Illinois Dept. of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said.

The governor has been saying for some time that widespread testing is one of the keys to reopening workplaces, in particular the ability to test employees on a regular basis with rapid results.

Also on Tuesday, Gov. Pritzker shared some good news for some Illinoisans getting hit hard financially by the pandemic.

The state is expanding relief for more than 138,000 people with privately-financed student loans. Borrowers may qualify for waiving late payment fees and 90 days of forbearance.

The state will also be providing $112 million more in nutrition benefits for SNAP recipients who have children.

Also on Tuesday state officials said the alternate-care facility being built at Chicago’s McCormick Place to handle an overflow of COVID-19 patients from city and area hospitals may not be built out to the full capacity as previously planned.

As of Tuesday, they said less than a dozen patients have been treated at the field hospital.

“We’re looking at making a few adjustments to that but you know we’ll make announcements as that happens, we’re looking at making some adjustments,” Pritzker said.

There are three wings being transformed into patient rooms with beds, medical equipment and nursing stations. Authorities have said the facility to treat coronavirus is being built in stages, with up to 3,000 beds planned.

The build out is supposed to be completed this Friday.

“Can I just remind you that, you know the consequence of being underprepared would be the loss of life and.. and the consequence of being over prepared would be that we built out more then we may need and nobody can know exactly where we’ll end up, you know until much after we’ve hit the peak and moved off of it,” Pritzker said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health has created a hotline at 1-800-889-3931. More information can be found at the IDPH website and the Chicago Department of Public Health website

This article originally appeared on ABC7 News.

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