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Illinois Passes 1,000 Confirmed COVID-19 Cases, Including Infant, But Number Understates Spread

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike testifies about the novel coronavirus at a Senate hearing on March 3, 2020.
Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois

For the first time, an infant was among the newly discovered cases of COVID-19 announced daily by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Officials on Sunday said they’d confirmed 296 new cases of coronavirus disease, though official tallies are thought to significantly understate the actual number of infections.

The state also announced three more deaths: a Cook County man in his 80s, a Chicago man in his 80s, and a McLean County woman in her 70s.

Speaking about the baby, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said people are still learning about the novel coronavirus, which means information and guidance are “rapidly evolving.”

“At this time, it is still unknown if a pregnant woman with COVID-19 can pass the virus to her fetus during pregnancy or delivery,” Ezike said Sunday at the state’s daily coronavirus briefing.

Ezike cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in saying that, at least among the small number of babies born to mothers with the disease, none have tested positive for coronavirus.

“In these cases, which of course are still a few in number, the virus was not found in samples of amniotic fluid nor breast milk,” she said.

Illinois' total number of confirmed cases is now 1,049, the vast majority of which are in the Chicago metropolitan area:

  • Chicago: 519 (49%)
  • Suburban Cook County: 286 (27%)
  • DuPage County: 79 (8%)
  • Lake: 69 (7%)
  • Will: 21 (2%)
  • Kane: 13 (1%)
  • McHenry: 12 (1%)

Illinois’ remaining 50 confirmed cases are scattered across the rest of the state, with a handful reported in most of the counties with Downstate’s largest cities, and individual cases everywhere else.

It’s important to note that the state’s official tallies likely understate the actual extent of COVID-19 infections, possibly by a great deal.

Illinois' population is 12.7 million. IDPH has reported 8,374 tests. And testing remains limited.

Ezike said the state is working with hospitals so testing for COVID-19 can be done in hospital labs, but it’ll be a few weeks before that’s up and running.

“Unfortunately the number of cases will continue to increase, as well the number of deaths,” Ezike said. “But we ask that you listen to our guidance and take all preventative measures to avoid becoming sick and to avoid infecting others.”

Experts say widespread testing will be a key step in suppressing the pandemic.

For now, the Illinois Department of Public Health is only testing people who meet one of two requirements: they are hospitalized with unexplained pneumonia, or they live or work in “congregate settings” — such as nursing homes, group homes, and prisons — that have at least two suspected cases.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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