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Pritzker Collaborates with Midwest States, Unemployment & COVID Death Toll Reach New Highs

Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers a daily briefing on the status of the new coronavirus in Illinois on April 16
via Blueroomstream.com
Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers a daily briefing on the status of the new coronavirus in Illinois on April 16

Governors from nearly every Midwestern state are collaborating on when and how to reopen the regional economy once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. Meanwhile, Illinois saw its highest one-day death toll, and new jobless claims continue to flood the state system responsible for handling them.

Similar to what some groups of coastal states have done, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said governors of Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky will share data with one another and decide when to reopen their states to commerce as a group.

The idea is to prevent any one place from opening before the others, which could inspire people to gather en-masse too soon setting off another spike in COVID-19 cases.

Pritzker said partnering was easy because the states have a lot in common.

“The industries are similar. The thinking is a little bit similar, and that makes it a very worthwhile collaborative to have because I think we’re making good decisions,” he explained.

Iowa and Missouri are not in on the partnership. Pritzker said Iowa officials chose not to join, and it’s unclear why Missouri did not join. Iowa is also the only state bordering Illinois that has so far not issued a formal stay-at-home order.

Standing alongside the governor at a daily press briefing Thursday, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike announced the state’s largest one-day death toll from the new coronavirus pandemic.

Ezike said 125 people have died from COVID-19 since Wednesday. More than a thousand have died since the virus began spreading here.

Ezike said the end of the pandemic is still a long way off.

“This is a marathon. We have to keep pace; can’t get ahead of ourselves,” she said.

“You can see that we have many new cases and unfortunately many lives that continue to be lost. But running together we will still beat this COVID-19.”

Meanwhile, in an effort to expand Illinois’ testing capability, Pritzker said the state has partnered with universities, a private company, and federally qualified health centers to open new testing centers and stabilize the supply chain of personal protective equipment.

Statewide, more than 122,000 COVID-19 tests have been processed, while the state has sent millions of gloves, masks, goggles and other protective gear from its stockpiles to all 102 counties. As of this week, it’s procured millions more from a variety of sources.

While the battle for wider testing and protective equipment availability continues, state workers processing unemployment claims have been fighting their own battle. Preliminary data released Thursday shows 141,000 Illinoisans filed unemployment claims in the past week alone.

Since the beginning of March, there have been 650,000 jobless claims in all, 12 times the amount during the same time last year.

Rebecca Cisco, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Employment Security, said that is unlike anything the department has ever experienced.

“It’s incredible to see,” Cisco remarked. “Incredible not in the standard definition of that word, but it’s something that we’ve never had to deal with before. So when we say that this is an unprecedented moment, that is not just a soundbite. That is fact."

Cisco explained several hundred state workers are processing unemployment claims. They are working overtime and staggering applications alphabetically in order to meet the demand. Meanwhile, the unemployment website has been upgraded to handle the influx.

As part of the federal CARES Act, the U.S. government is shouldering the majority of unemployment costs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Copyright 2020 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.