Governor J.B. Pritzker said today that models are now predicting that Illinois will hit its peak of new COVID-19 cases in mid-May. He said he and his staff are looking at ways to tweak the stay-at-home order, but has ruled out, for the time being, opening everything up on May 1.

A report published yesterday recommends a massive increase in testing and tracing in order to get the economy back on its feet.

COVID-19 Infections Are Still Increasing

The number of Evanston residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 increased by 13 cases today, April 21, for a total of 253 cases, according to information provided by the City of Evanston. A total of 1,603 Evanstonians have been tested for COVID-19. The trend is shown in the above chart. 

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

For Chicago, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases grew from 13,013 cases yesterday to 13,554 today; the cases in Cook County grew from 22,101 yesterday to 23,184 today; and the number of cases in Illinois grew from 31,508 yesterday to 33,059 today. A total of 154,997 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 1,465.

The second chart in the chart box shows the number of new COVID-19 cases reported in Illinois each day starting on April 7.

The cases between April 7 and 11 increased on an average of 9.3% each day over the total on the previous day. The average percentage increase between April 12 and 16 is 6.0% each day over the total on the previous day. The average percentage increase between April 17 and 21 is 4.2%.

The five-day average is decreasing.

The Peak is Now Projected for Mid-May

Today, Gov. Pritzker said models used by the State are now predicting that COVID-19 cases will peak in Illinois sometime in mid-May, which is three to four weeks later than predicted in late March and early April.

When asked if he would extend the stay-at-home order in light of that, he said, “We’ll be talking about our models more in the next couple of days, but sufficient to say, we’re working hard to make changes in the stay-at-home order, but we’re in the stay-at-home order now. The peak is still yet to come, but I want to give our staff and myself enough time to have conversations with the epidemiologists and the experts and people in different industries to understand what we could do, not just in the very near term about changing the stay-at-home order in some ways – tweaking it on the edges and trying to make it easier on people – but also what we will be doing going forward if in fact the peak comes in mid-May or whenever that may come. We need to have 14 days after that [the peak], as you know according to many of the experts, where the numbers are coming down.”

He added that to remove the stay-at-home order entirely as some governors are doing, “is simply to open back up to infection.”

For the time being, Gov. Pritzker said, he ruled out opening everything up on May 1. He said, “[F]or us to truly open things up we need testing and tracing, and we need a treatment available and we need widespread availability of PPEs [personal protection equipment]. We don’t have those available to us today. And treatment, of course, is not something in our control, but we’re working hard on all of the three other things to make sure we are ready. But remember, Illinois is not even close to its peak. I mean it’s weeks away now. You really won’t know when you’ve hit your peak until you’re on the other side and you’re going down.”

The metric is that new cases should be decreasing for 14 days after reaching the peak. If the peak is mid-May, that pushes things out to the end of May.

New Report Recommends 5 Million Tests Nationwide Each Day by Early June, 20 Million by Late July

A report, “Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience,” published by the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, recommends massive scale testing for COVID-19, together with supported isolation as the path to open up the nation’s economy. The report was updated yesterday, April 20. There are 23 authors, with expertise in many different disciplines. It was funded in part by The Rockefeller Foundation.

“What we need to do is much bigger than most people realize,” says the report. “We need to massively scale-up testing, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine – together with providing the resources to make these possible for all individuals.”

One key distinguishing factor of the report is the sheer volume of the tests it concludes are necessary. A number of researchers have recently concluded that the nation needs to do about 150,000 tests per day before it can begin to safely open the economy.

The Safra Center report, however, says, “We need to deliver 5 million tests per day by early June to deliver a safe social reopening. This number will need to increase over time (ideally by late July) to 20 million a day to fully remobilize the economy.”

The report says the nation should phase in the opening of the economy sector by sector, in sync with the growth in testing. This approach will prevent “cycles of opening up and shutting down,” and “protect our frontline workers, and contain the virus to levels where it can be effectively managed and treated until we can find a vaccine.”

The report says the “basic tool” will be testing for “targeted isolation.” In this approach, “tests are used for those who are symptomatic and those with reasons to presume exposure based on community spread (e.g., health care workers), but also for all of their contacts, including asymptomatic contacts, so that COVID-positive contacts can be isolated but contacts who test negative do not have to be quarantined.

“Asymptomatic contacts who test negative on a first test would have to be tested multiple times over the course of the incubation period but would not necessarily need to be quarantined. Alternatively, these individuals might choose to quarantine rather than to be tested.”

The report says this testing approach will provide disease control “if contact tracing is highly effective,” especially if the economy is opened on a sector-by-sector basis.

A back-up approach would be to use “universal testing” which would require a much higher rate of testing.

The report estimates the cost of implementing this testing and tracing at between $50 billion and $300 billion over two years, which it says is dwarfed by the economic cost of continued collective quarantine of $100 to 350 billion a month. It lays out specific responsibilities of the federal government.

Gov. Pritzker has said that the scientists and health care professionals he is relying on 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 per day.

Larry Gavin

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...