AP NEWS

Illinois virus cases climb to 66; more regions affected

March 15, 2020 GMT

CHICAGO (AP) — The number of Illinois coronavirus cases rose to 66 from 48 as residents with the illness emerged in central and southern regions of the state, officials said Saturday.

The mayor of Chicago, meanwhile, urged political candidates to avoid face-to-face campaigning as part of virus prevention while polling places in some communities were changed from senior housing centers ahead of the primary election Tuesday.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the state health department, said the number of Illinois cases should “increase dramatically” as results come in from private labs.

“It is vitally important that we implement social distancing measures, such as staying home and canceling large events,” Ezike said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker appeared annoyed with St. Patrick’s Day party crowds in Chicago.

“If you are young and healthy, listen up: We need you to follow social distancing, too,” he said.

But Kyle Thomas, a nurse from Colorado, said he wasn’t ready to put his life on hold. He had planned the trip months ago.

“I’m being careful. I’ve got my hand sanitizer, and I’m washing my hands,” Thomas told the Chicago Sun-Times. “So much has already been canceled and we might be overreacting.”

Large crowds of travelers standing shoulder-to-shoulder vented their frustrations on the situation at O’Hare International Airport on social media. The airport’s Twitter account responded to many, saying the customs prodcedure was taking longer than usual due to “enhanced (COVID-19) screening for passengers coming from Europe.”

Priztker said the long lines were “unacceptable” and called on the federal government to “solve this.”

The new virus cases in Illinois include people in Woodford, Cumberland, Sangamon and St. Clair counties.

The Sangamon County Department of Public Health said in a statement Saturday evening that two new cases had been identified. One patient is “critically ill” at a hospital in Springfield.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

Just a few days before the election, DuPage County relocated 17 polling places to the county fairgrounds in Wheaton in response to COVID-19.

Besides the presidential primary, voters will be choosing a Republican challenger to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and fall candidates for U.S. House. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is being challenged in a closely watched Democratic primary.

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot urged candidates to put “safety over politics” and stop in-person get-out-the-vote efforts during the coronavirus crisis.

“There are plenty of organizing tactics available that don’t involve in-person contact such as phone banking, texting out the vote and other virtual communications practices,” said Lightfoot, a Democrat, who cast an early ballot Saturday.

Pritzker has ordered the closing of every school in the state until March 30, starting Tuesday.

The Illinois Tollway, which operates 294 miles of roads in northern Illinois, said drivers must pay electronically and stop using cash in order to protect themselves and workers at toll booths.

“All customers should be advised to keep moving and not stop at toll plazas,” executive director Jose Alvarez said.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Saturday night that social visits for detainees at the county jail will be suspended, effective Sunday. And the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events announced Cloud Gate Plaza, where “The Bean” sculpture is located, is closed until April 12, though Millennium Park remains open.

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