Due to closing the schools, the stay-at-home order, and social distancing – and the residents of Illinois adhering to those restrictions – “We have avoided our worst-case scenario,” said Governor J.B. Pritzker on April 20. Testing is still not where it needs to be to safely open the economy. By some estimates it needs to increase three-fold to protect the public when the economy opens up. People may depend on the testing to feel safe when they go back to work.

COVID-19 Infections Are Still Increasing

The number of Evanston residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 increased by 9 cases on Saturday, 6 on Sunday, and 12 cases today, April 20, for a total of 240 cases, according to information provided by the City of Evanston. A total of 1,570 Evanstonians have been tested for COVIC-19. The trend is shown in the above chart. 

The cases are close to equally divided between Evanston zip codes 60201 and 60202. As of April 19, 52% of Evanston residents who tested positive for COVID-19 were younger than 50 years old, 32% were in their 40s and 50s, and the rest were 70 and older.

Of the confirmed COVID-19 cases of Evanstonians, 31% were white people, 28% were black, 18% Latinx, 14% other; the remaining 9% people whose race/ethnicity is unknown. The data shows that black people in Evanston are disproportionately impacted.

To date, a total of 8 Evanstonians have died due to COVID-19.    

For Chicago, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases grew from 11,409 on Friday to 13,013 today; the cases in Cook County grew from 19,391 on Friday to 22,101 today; and the number of cases in Illinois grew from 27,575 on Friday to 31,508 today.  A total of 148,358 people in Illinois have been tested for COVID-19. The trend is shown in the first chart in the chart box.

The number of residents of Illinois who have died due to COVID-19 has increased to 1,349.

The second chart in the chart box shows the number of new COVID-19 cases reported in Illinois each day starting on April 1.

The cases between April 6 and 10 increased on an average of 11.9% each day over the total on the previous day. The average percentage increase between April 11 and 15 is 9.0% each day over the total on the previous day. The average percentage increase between April 16 and 20 is 5.1%.

The five-day average is decreasing.

Hospitalizations Far Less Than Feared

Gov. Pritzker provided data showing hospitalizations and usage of ICU beds and ventilators on four different dates in April, where the usage was increasing.

On April 19, he said there were 4,599 hospitalizations in Illinois due to COVID-19, that 1,239 COVID-19 patients were using ICU beds, and that 757 were on ventilators. 

He said that on that date 11,521 hospital beds were open in Illinois, 949 ICU beds were open, and 1,911 ventilators were open.

While hospitalizations were still increasing, he said, “Early modeling into mid-March showed that without social distancing, we would have exceeded our hospital capacity by more than 25,000 beds by April 6, and that we would have needed 1,000 more ventilators beyond our existing capacity.”

Due to closing the schools, the stay at home order and social distancing, he said, “We have avoided our worst-case scenario.”

The Need to Increase Testing for COVID-19

Gov. Pritzker said the State still needs to increase its testing for COVID-19.

In an interview on CNN this morning, Dr. Thomas Tsai, at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said researchers at Harvard University estimate that in order to ease restrictions and to begin to safely open the economy, the nation needs to triple the rate of testing for COVID-19.

Currently in the U.S., the average number of people tested each day for COVID-19 is 150,000. Dr. Tsai said the number should be at least 500,000.

That amount of testing is necessary to identify the majority of people who are infected with COVID-19, to track and test people that they have been in contact with and to isolate them.

Dr. Tsai added that about 20% of the people in the nation who are given a COVID-19 test receive a positive test result. He said the rate in South Korea is 3% and the rate in Germany is about 6 to 8%.

The maximum rate recommended by the World Health Organization is 10%.

Gov. Pritzker has said that the scientists and health care professionals on whom he is relying have told him that the State should get to a level of 10,000 tests per day. In the four days between April 15 and 19, the number of tests administered in Illinois averaged about 6,600.

In the same period, the number of positive COVID-19 tests in relation to the total number of tests administered to Illinois residents was about 22% – or double the rate recommended by WHO.

If a high percentage of people test positive when they are given the COCID-19 test, that suggests that there are many people in the community who have COVID-19, but have not been tested.

Last week, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said that the confirmed number of COVID-19 cases that IDPH is reporting “grossly underestimates” the number of people in the State who have COVID-19. She acknowledged that many people in the State have COVID-19 but have not been tested.

Dr. Tsai explained, “We have imperfect information as to what is the true magnitude of the number of affected individuals, both symptomatic and asymptomatic.  We need that information in order to guide our opening of the economy and to return to normal life.”

He added, “We need to broaden our understanding for testing.” He said the testing to date has been primarily of people who exhibit symptoms. He said some people who exhibit minor systems are told to isolate themselves for 14 days and are not tested. He said the states need information about that group of people, about people who have not exhibited any symptoms, and about people who have been in contact with people who have tested positive for COVID-19.

The Harvard researchers recommend that states administer 150 tests each day per 100,000 people. In Illinois that would mean about 19,000 tests per day

Limits on COVID-19 Testing

In the last several weeks, Gov. Pritzker has summarized the State’s efforts to increase its capacity to test for COVID-19.

The governors of many states have said they face shortages of supplies necessary to conduct the tests, a point made again today by many governors in a call with the White House, said Gov. Pritzker.

On April 19, Gov. Pritzker said, “I’ve been frustrated when I hear the White House talking about testing capacity versus testing.  Those are very different. Testing capacity is the capability – the machines that exist in your state that could possibly read the tests. You need a lot of things in order to actually have a test result. You need a swab to take the specimen; you need a viral transport medium to put the specimen in so that it can be transported safely. You need the RNA extractor so that the process can run properly, and you need the machines. And you need lab technicians, and you need a lot of them.

“When you think about testing capacity, they say we will have the ability to do x number of tests. … But if you don’t have all those items – which, by the way, none of the states have those items that they need – you can’t actually use the testing capacity that’s available.” 

On April 19, President Trump said his administration was preparing to use the Defense Protection Act to compel a U.S. facility to increase production of test swabs by more than 20 million per month. He provided no details on when he would do this.

When asked what metric he would use to determine when to open the economy, Gov. Pritzker said one metric in the White House guidance was worth looking at, namely when the State passes the peak in the number of COVID cases, and the number of new cases goes down for 14 consecutive days.

The Governor has also repeatedly said that testing, tracing, treatment and the availability of PPEs is essential.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...