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Illinois inmate dies from COVID-19; dozens more sickened

Illinois officials this week reported the death of a state prison inmate from COVID-19 and acknowledged the difficulty they face in stopping the spread of the virus in a crowded correctional system.

Dr. Ngoze Ezike, the state’s public health director, said a man at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet had died from the respiratory illness. Twelve more inmates with COVID-19 have been hospitalized, several requiring ventilators, and 77 others showing symptoms have been isolated, as have 11 staff members.

“Those who are incarcerated obviously live and work and eat and study and recreate all within that same environment, heightening the potential for COVID-19 to spread really quickly once it’s introduced,” Ezike said. “The options for isolation of COVID-19 cases are limited.”

While each COVID-19 case should be isolated, Ezike said the Pritzker administration is considering putting infected inmates together because of minimal space.

The inmate’s death was one of eight reported Monday, bringing the state’s death toll to 73 among 5,057 infections, an increase of 461 from Sunday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has clashed with President Donald Trump over the federal government’s pandemic response, also reported Monday that 300,000 face masks promised to him by the White House were delivered Sunday — albeit the wrong kind.

The Democratic governor and the Republican president engaged in a war or words on Twitter last week. That ended with a phone call between the two and a promise to deliver the state 300,000 so-called N95 face masks thought to be optimal in protecting against coronavirus transmission.

“What they sent were not the N95 masks that were promised, but instead were surgical masks, which is not what we asked for,” Pritzker said. Such personal protective equipment for health care workers is “not a luxury that they should have to ration.”

Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot reported that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was installing the first 500 field-hospital beds were being installed in the McCormick Place Convention Center. By month’s end, there will be 3,000 beds for patients who need extra medical care despite having mild cases. Hospitals still have room, however, and will receive patients first, Pritzker said.

“If we never have to go beyond our existing facilities, we will all be extremely happy,” Pritzker said. “But since we can’t guarantee that and in fact, we don’t have the data yet to suggest otherwise, we’re actively building out capacity.”

Additional space will come from temporarily reopening two shuttered hospitals, the former Advocate Sherman Hospital campus in Elgin and the Metro South Health Center in Blue Island, Pritzker said.

Although new cases reported Monday were just 40 percent of the 1,105 counted Sunday, Pritzker and Ezike noted it’s no indication that new infections have peaked. It has more to do the timing of reporting of test results from commercial labs.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

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