CHICAGO, Ill. (WCIA) — Ten days after implementing an executive order that banned nonessential work and travel across the state, Gov. JB Pritzker announced Tuesday those measures will continue until at least April 30, pushing back the Stay-At-Home order’s original expiration date of April 7.
The order — which took affect on March 21 — was aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19: back then, the Illinois Department of Public Health said the state had a total of 753 coronavirus cases spanning 26 counties.
As of Tuesday, the state’s case total extends beyond 5,900 cases in 54 counties.
“As I’ve said since the beginning, my priority through each and every one of these decisions continues to be as saving as many lives as possible,” Pritzker said Tuesday. “It is based upon (science) that tomorrow I will be signing an executive order to extend…the executive order through the month of April.”
He said his administration had not yet seen an evidence-based need to extend the closures past April 30 and called that date the “best-educated date (we’ve) come up with between the (scientific/medical) experts and those of us who know something about how to manage city and state matters.”
The extension of the Stay-At-Home order also means that both public and private P-12 schools and universities across the state will also remain shuttered; Tuesday was the first day that all schools were required to begin remote or e-learning plans following their closures earlier this month.
Pritker said Tuesday that districts will transition from “Act of God” days to Remote Learning days, in which “absolutely no days need to be made up.”
The governor also detailed state efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Illinois prisons, which includes the Department of Corrections “reviewing the case files of as many low-risk offenders as possible for early release during this crisis.”
Nearly 300 more such people were released as of 1 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, Pritzker said, adding that the number “has included some of our female inmates who are pregnant or in our women-and-babies program, as well as low-level offenders at the end of their shift.”
The move follows the Monday death of an inmate at the Stateville Correctional Center near Chicago who contracted the virus; IDPH officials said 12 other inmates were hospitalized, with “several” requiring ventilators. Seventy-seven more incarcerated people who showed symptoms of COVID-19 were being “isolated” at the facility, IDPH officials said, adding that 11 staff members were also isolated.
Pritzker also spoke directly to healthcare organizations across the state, urging them to not deny service to any patients.
“I want to say to the local hospitals that are near the prison facilities: We will do all that we can to ensure that any patients receive the best care that we can provide,” Pritzker said. “We will work with local departments of public health to get you all the equipment and supports that we can.
“Hospitals that refuse to take on residents of the Department of Corrections will be called out by name, and those that refuse to operate in accordance to their oath will be compelled to do so by law.”
Pritzker also said the state is in the process of drafting a plan to issue temporary nursing licenses to “people who are mostly trained, who are nearly graduated” to boost the state’s healthcare workforce.
“We need everybody and anybody who has medical training to help us in this endeavor,” he said. “We need to add to our workforce in any and every way we can.”
According to a press release, preliminary reports from hospitals statewide as of March 30 show that 41 percent of the state’s ICU beds are “empty” and ready for immediate use. Of the ICU beds currently occupied, 35 percent are filled with COVID-19 patients.
Sixty-eight percent of the state’s ventilators are available as well — of those currently in-use, 24 percent are being used by COVID-19 patients.
Officials say the state remains “within its capacity” to deal with an increased patient load in the wake of the pandemic.
Pritzker has previously faced pushback from Republicans who have urged him to reopen parts of the state if their infection rates remain low; his administration has pointed to the fact that has – and is continuing – to spread to more counties, including those downstate.
You can read the full text of the March 21 Executive Order below.
This story is developing and will be updated.