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17 cases of coronavirus announced in Macon County on Friday

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DECATUR — Seventeen cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Macon County, the county's Crisis Communication Team said Friday. 

The announcement came as state officials announced 1,465 new coronavirus cases and 68 additional deaths, bringing the total number of cases in Illinois since the outbreak began to 17,887 and the total number of deaths to 596.

The latest deaths occurred in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kankakee, Lake, Rock Island, St. Clair and Will counties. Fulton and Greene counties each reported their first case, meaning the virus is present in 83 counties.

“We're working hard to expand our state testing capacity and as we do so we're thinking seriously about where and how these tests are available, and to whom,” Pritzker said.

He said that includes setting up partnerships with hospitals in Chicago and the Metro East that will take specimens of 400 people per day to send them for testing.

A total of 126 tests have been performed in Macon County, and four tests are pending. One person has died, a man in his 80s who was a resident at Fair Havens Senior Living. 

The age range of confirmed cases in the county is: 

  • One case in 20s
  • Five cases in 30s
  • One case in 40s
  • Four cases in 50s
  • Three cases in 60s
  • One case in 70s
  • Two cases in 80s

The health department has said it is notifying people who may have had contact with patients. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker also Friday said the state was stepping up testing for the virus in minority communities, which officials say disproportionately suffer from the disease.

“No one life is more important than another,” the governor said at his daily news briefing. “Vulnerable and marginalized communities must receive equitable care.”

Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago will partner with four health centers that serve low-income and underserved residents of the city’s west and south sides to perform 400 additional daily tests over the next several days. In the Metro East area, three locations of the Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation system will test an additional 470 people per day.

Early data from IDPH has shown that Illinoisans of color, especially African-Americans, are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, as black people represent about 43 percent of fatalities from the virus.

IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said black people are five times more likely to die from the disease than white people, in part because they experience higher rates of other ailments like heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and diabetes.

Black Illinoisans are also more likely to work jobs with a higher risk of exposure, as well as be underinsured or have less access to medical care.
“We will not stand idly by while one segment of the population bears an unfortunate, heightened burden of this disease,” Ezike said.

Along with increased testing for minority communities, Pritzker said the state will soon distribute to hospitals 15 testing machines from Illinois-based Abbott Labs, which can give results within minutes.

Four will go to Chicago, three to the Metro East, three to Illinois Department of Human Services facilities and five to state Department of Corrections facilities.

Pritzker also announced new state guidance to prevent discrimination in medical treatment along many demographic lines, including race and ability.

“It is essential that health care institutions operate within an ethical framework and consistent with civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in the delivery of health care,” the guidelines read in part.

Among other things, the new guidance warns against “quality of life” assessments based on a person’s disability. They also encourage health workers to communicate with patients and recognize their own implicit biases.

Pritzker said the guidance makes sure “vulnerable and historically marginalized communities must receive equitable care, so that no person of color or person with disabilities suffers a disparate outcome due to a legacy of discrimination.”

Pritzker also announced that 2,000 rooms at empty hotels across the state that are prepared for mild COVID-19 patients will be ready to be activated “by next week” based on local needs.

Rooms will be available for people who have tested positive but have low-level symptoms that do not require hospital care, as well as people under investigation who might need to move out of their homes so not to expose family members or roommates.

The state is also opening a handful of shuttered hospitals in case of overflow at existing hospitals. Dr. Suzet McKinney, CEO and executive director of the Illinois Medical District, is leading the effort.

McKinney said the targeted construction completion date for two hospitals in the suburban Chicago cities of Blue Island and Elgin is April 24 with two additional days to train staff. She said construction should be completed at Vibra hospital in Springfield by May 9.

Although the target dates for opening these facilities is weeks away, Pritzker said “the timing here is correct” considering when cases are expected to peak and when surrounding hospitals may reach capacity.

State and Chicago officials also have said they hope the McCormick Place convention center will be prepared to accept its first COVID-19 patients next week if demand on the city's hospitals requires a “relief valve."

The patient spaces are divided by white curtains and laid out in a grid inside cavernous halls that typically host conventions and trade shows. Workers installed water lines, electrical lines and data lines to ensure health care workers could safely care for patients and access electronic medical records.

Dr. Nick Turkal, executive director of the facility, said more than 400 health care workers have been hired and training is underway.

“These people have chosen to leave their lives, put their lives on pause to come and take care of people in need," he said. “They are brave, they are committed and they are excellent professionals.”

The Herald & Review and Associated Press contributed. 

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