(The Center Square) – Illinois’ prison system, which has a population of older inmates, reported its first death related to COVID-19 and public health officials said there were clusters in other facilities.
State officials also provided the latest details about the spread of COVID-19 in Illinois. Statewide, officials have confirmed 5,057 cases of COVID-19, including 73 deaths, in 52 of the state’s 102 counties. Clark, Crawford, Marion, Randolph, and Saline counties have now reported cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus that emerged in late 2019 in Wuhan, China.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday at a daily press briefing in Chicago that no decision had been made regarding the possible extension of the statewide emergency stay-at-home order. The order is set to expire April 7, but Pritzker has said it could be extended.
After President Donald Trump announced Sunday an extension of his administration’s social distancing recommendations through April 30, Pritzker said state officials continue to evaluate COVID-19 data in Illinois.
“You really have to look at a trend, not a single day,” Pritzker said. “And, so we’ll see. We’ll look at tomorrow’s numbers, and the next day, and the next day.”
Pritzker said fluctuations in the number of new cases could be attributed to reports coming in from different areas of the state at different times.
The stay-at-home order has been in place since March 21.
On Sunday, officials announced 1,105 new cases and 18 additional deaths. On Monday, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike announced 461 new cases and eight additional deaths.
“That brings our total in Illinois to 5,057 cases and a sobering 73 total deaths,” she said. “We’ve also seen in the counts a death of an individual from the Stateville Correctional Center.”
She said 12 inmates are hospitalized at Stateville with some needing ventilators.
“There are 77 additional individuals who have symptoms who are being isolated within the facility,” Ezike said. “We also know of 11 staff who have symptoms and are being appropriately isolated.”
Earlier in March when COVID-19 started spreading in Illinois, the Illinois Department of Corrections said it was modifying its “Pandemic Influenza and Continuity of Operations plans to ensure we are prepared for a potential outbreak.”
Some groups had questioned how prepared the state’s prison system was for the pandemic.
“[The John Howard Association] was saddened to learn of the person in IDOC custody who died from COVID-19, our sympathies are with his family, loved ones and community,” John Howard Association Executive Director Jennifer Vollen-Katz said.
The prison watchdog group said weeks ago it called for the release of different cohorts of people from IDOC facilities, especially medically compromised people like the elderly, pregnant women, or even people close to their release dates.
“The point of this was to reduce exposure, mitigate and manage contagion and best allocate resources inside our prisons to limit the impact of COVID19,” Vollen-Katz said. “Medical care inside IDOC facilities is already a serious problem without the presence of a fast-moving, deadly new virus.”
“Unfortunately, we are not shocked,” Vollen-Katz said Monday, “given the proximity in which people in prison live, lack of available space to practice social distancing let alone to isolate people who are symptomatic and shortages of hygiene and sanitation items, controlling contagion is impossible.”
She said protective gear should be available to everyone, including staff members and the people in custody.
“Prison health is public health and our public health depends on humane and fair treatment for everyone impacted by the coronavirus,” she said.
On Monday, Ezike said once a virus has been introduced in a congregate setting – such as a prison or nursing home – it could be very difficult to contain and isolate. She said IDOC was working to create the best conditions to allow for the isolation of affected people. That includes temperature checks and protective equipment for staff and lockdowns for any facility where COVID-19 is found.
She also said other congregate settings have clusters of cases, including nursing homes and assisted living homes in Joliet, Taylorville, Evanston and Belleville.
Hospitals in Illinois still have room. As of Monday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported that of the 27,465 non-intensive care unit beds in Illinois, 15,318 were occupied, or 55 percent occupied. Of the 2,578 available ICU beds in the state, 1,525 were occupied. That was about 59 percent. Of the 2,460 ventilators in the state, 785 were in use, about 32 percent.
Pritzker said officials have taken steps to add surge hospital bed capacity with a project underway at McCormick Place in Chicago. Officials are considering similar projects a shuttered hospital in Elgin and another in Blue Island. The governor also said shipments of supplies were going out to medical staff and first responders across the state, but again was critical of the federal government’s leadership in obtaining and distributing needed supplies.
The governor said one thing was clear from recent stories of communities coming together to have sewing clubs making masks or people seeking to donate their federal stimulus check to the state’s efforts, Illinoisans are stepping up.
“It’s within each and every one of us to tap into that spirit and hold on to it,” Pritzker said. “Each and every one of us has the generosity and tenacity to see ourselves through this moment. Let’s allow it to carry us through these times together and some time, someday soon, through to the other side.”