Pritzker: Take this spike seriously, wear masks and continue physical distancing

As parts of the nation struggle with a worse coronavirus outbreak than during its high points last spring in other states, Illinois, where officials continue to congratulate residents for keeping the new virus in check, announced Wednesday an increasing number of newly confirmed infections.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and his state public health director, Dr. Ngoze Ezike, made public pleas to wear masks when outside the home and continue physical distancing and conscientious hygiene to stem the spread of the highly contagious and potentially deadly coronavirus.

The state on Wednesday reported July’s highest one-day total at nearly 1,600 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, prompting a warning from the Democratic governor.

“There are those who mistakenly think, ‘No problem. You can’t eradicate the virus and our numbers are so low, we don’t need to do anything about it,’” Pritzker said at a news conference in Chicago. “To them I would say that in every one of the states like Arizona and Florida that are in full-blown crisis right now, it started with a gradual rise in the number.”

States including Arizona, California, Florida, Louisiana and Texas have seen some July surges that surpassed what any of the hardest-hit states saw in April. Meanwhile, Illinois, which many believe was slower and more deliberate in re-opening its economy and reducing restrictions on social interaction, had kept numbers of new cases steady.

But partly because of the state’s wider reopening at the beginning of the month, cases have been on the rise. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday reimposed restrictions on bars and gyms in response to a recent spike in the city, particularly among young adults.

On Wednesday, the state’s number of confirmed virus cases totaled 1,598, with 23 additional deaths. The virus has now contributed to the deaths of 7,347 people in Illinois, among 165,301 people confirmed to have contracted it, many of whom have recovered.

The true number of cases is likely far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

The Democrat’s update came two days after President Donald Trump did an about-face on the pandemic, which he had sought to downplay in recent weeks. Trump warned that it will get worse before it improves and, after spurning them for weeks, urged the use of face coverings to minimize transmission.

“It’s never too late to learn what the right thing to do is,” Pritzker said when asked about the Republican president’s U-turn on the issue. “I’m very glad that the president did that. There are a lot of people who follow his every word and now understand that this is the right thing for them to do.”

Also Wednesday, Pritzker announced that the Illinois Department of Employment Security is working with federal authorities to crack a fraud ring penetrating the federal Pandemic Unemployment Insurance program in every state. He said it’s likely the perpetrators used personal information stolen previously and are now applying for benefits through the program.

He said anyone who has not applied for unemployment but receives a debit card or a letter from IDES should immediately notify the agency and report it. Officials said additional information about identity theft is available online from the Federal Trade Commission.