The Beloved Church in Lena has filed suit in federal court in Rockford alleging that Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Stay-at-Home order violates the First Amendment right of freedom of religion.

Once again at today’s briefing, Gov. Pritzker and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the Director of Illinois Department of Public Health, focused on testing and its importance to safely opening the economy.

COVID-19 Infections Are Still Increasing

Evanston: The number of Evanston residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 increased by 10 cases today, April 30, for a total of 338 cases, according to information provided by the City of Evanston. The trend is shown in the above chart. 

To date, a total of 10 Evanstonians have died due to COVID-19.    

Chicago, Cook County and Illinois: For Chicago, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases grew from 20,413 yesterday to 21,491 today; the cases in Cook County grew from 34,880 yesterday to 36,593 today; and the number of cases in Illinois grew from 50,355 yesterday to 52,918 today. The trend is shown in the first chart in the chart box.

Dr. Ezike said t there were 2,563 new confirmed cases reported in Illinois. The trend of new cases is shown in the second chart in the chart box.

The rate of increase of new cases today (in relation to the total cases yesterday) was 5.1%, slightly above yesterday’s rate of 4.7%.

The number of deaths in Illinois due to COVID-19 increased by 141 in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 in Illinois to 2,355.

The Positive Test Rate: The World Health Organization says the percentage of tests that are positive for a COVID-19 infection should be below 10% in order to safely open the economy. A rate higher than 10% means it is likely that there are many people in the community who have COVID-19 but have not yet been tested.

In the first five days of April, there was an average of 5,152 COVID-19 tests administered in Illinois each day, and there was an average of 1,252 positive test results each day. The average positive test rate was 20.4% during that five-day period.

In the last five days, there was an average of 13,650 COVID-19 tests administered in Illinois each day, and there was an average of 2,228 positive test results each. The average positive test rate was 16.3% during the five-day period.

Comparing the five-day periods, the positive rate has declined by significant amount. But the positive test rate for today was 19.4%, which is, hopefully, an anomaly.

“It’s a positive sign when more people are getting tested, and there is a lower ratio of positives,” said the Governor.

Hospitalizations in the State: Dr. Ezike reported that the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in Illinois was 4,953 today, down from 5,063 yesterday; and the number of COVID-19 patients occupying ICU beds was 1,289 today, down slightly from 1,290 yesterday. Today 785 people are on ventilators, up from 777 people yesterday.

Gov. Pritzker has said the number of hospitalizations is a key factor he would consider in deciding whether to open the economy. He said he wanted to see that number peak and then decline for 14 successive days.

The State’s hospitals have capacity to handle these numbers of patients. As of April 25, there were 11,173 hospital beds open, 966 ICU beds open, and 1,894 ventilators available.

Broad Testing is Key to Opening the Economy

Dr. Ezike explained why testing is regarded as so important.

“Testing is one of the keys to opening the State, which is why we’re working diligently to expand testing through public/private partnerships. Testing leads to quick identification of cases, quick treatment for those who are identified as positive, and immediate isolation of individuals that will help prevent spread. More readily available testing will also help determine if close contacts to the confirmed cases have been infected.

“Testing is also important for the bigger picture, so we can hone our mitigation efforts through targeted interventions and learn more about how the virus is spreading and to whom. Knowing who is infected is critically important, which is why we are asking everyone who is tested to make sure they fill out” an information form completely.

The form asks for people to provide their age, gender, race, ethnicity, county of residence, occupation, the clinical history surrounding their infection, as well as recovery and exposure information, said Dr. Ezike.

“Gathering this information helps inform our strategy, helps us understand who is getting infected and in what areas of the State. It helps us to stop spread and to provide support and assistance to communities that are identified as needing it most.

“Testing and comprehensive information will help us end this pandemic soon,” she said.

Gov. Pritzker summarized the State’s efforts to obtain materials needed to conduct a test, and the efforts to make testing accessible to people throughout the State. He said the State has worked with community health centers and hospitals to test people and to reach the most vulnerable residents. He said the number of public testing sites has expanded from 112 last Friday to 177 today. At these public sites, he said, “tests are entirely free.”

He added that two new drive-through testing sites have opened this week in Waukegan and East St. Louis, bringing the total of the State’s drive-through sites to seven. These seven sites together can collect 3,000 specimens a day, he said.

“Testing is vital to our efforts to reduce social restrictions, get our economy going, and to protect our residents,” the Governor said.

The criteria to get a test have been loosened in the past week. A doctor’s order is no longer needed to get a test at a State-operated facility.

Researchers seem to agree that much more testing is needed in the nation before the economy can open safely. The Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute and two of his colleagues have concluded that on a nationwide basis 500,000 tests a day are needed to succeed with the opening of the economy and to stay open.  That is about triple the number being administered now, and it would require about 150 tests per day per 100,000 people.

For Illinois to meet that target, it would need to give about 19,500 tests per day.

Other researchers put the number much higher. 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, updated on April 20, has 23 authors, with expertise in many different disciplines.

The Safra Center report 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.”

Another Lawsuit, This Time by a Church

The federal lawsuit filed today by the Beloved Church in Lena and its pastor alleges that Gov. Pritzker’s Stay-at-Home order precludes the congregation from attending church services and that it also prohibits drive-in services in church parking lots.  The complaint alleges that the order violates their First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

The complaint names Gov. Pritzker, the Stephensen County Sheriff and the Village of Lena’s police chief as defendants.

Gov. Pritzker said, “These are difficult times for parishioners and for those of us who worship to not be able to access, sometimes in person, your faith leader.”

He said, “Many faith leaders have found new ways to connect with parishioners on Zoom conferencing, holding services by teleconference, and I would encourage people to continue to do that.”

He said people “are being put in harm’s way by those who are putting gatherings together of any sort and that are going to potentially infect others.

“There are people out there who are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic and yet have coronavirus. If you put one of these people in a room full of parishioners, you run the risk you’re going to get an exponential run of this infection through the crowd of people that you love and care for.”

When pressed as to whether he would enforce the order against the Church, he said, “Nobody’s going to run in and break up a gathering of church-goers at that moment. But I will tell you there are consequences, of course.” He did not elaborate, but added, “I think parishioners should do the right thing and ask those who are the faith leaders either not to hold their service or simply ask that they have something on line that they can simply connect to rather than have the potential of being infected.”

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...