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Illinois ramps up testing, staffing at long-term care facilities

Illinois ramps up testing, staffing at long-term care facilities

State surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 cases, announces 92 additional deaths

By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
phancock@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD – The state of Illinois is sending out teams of nurses and ramping up testing for COVID-19 at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities as it continues efforts to control the spread of the virus.

Gov. JB Pritzker said Wednesday during his daily briefing in Chicago that the Illinois Department of Public Health is deploying 10 teams of 50 nurses each to long-term care facilities around the state, and it will deploy another team of 200 nurses in the coming days.

Pritzker said the nurses’ primary functions will be to administer swab tests to the staff and residents, train nursing home staff on how to conduct swab tests themselves, and help the facilities improve their hygiene practices and use of personal protective equipment, or PPE.

“As always, I want to offer my gratitude and the thanks of a grateful state to the front-line staff who dedicate their days and their nights to this work and who are stepping up in incredible ways to protect those most vulnerable to this virus,” Pritzker said. “Know that your work makes a world of difference for the people that you care for, to their families and to all of Illinois.”

IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said her agency is focusing on nursing homes because of the unique vulnerability of their residents.

“Our long-term care residents are at greater risk of infection because of the inherent nature of living in that congregate setting, not to mention the advanced age and the attendant comorbidities,” she said. “Public Health will continue to work closely with the long-term care facilities across the state, calling almost 200 facilities a day to check in on the staff and ask for the assistance that may be required. We’re making sure that they’re employing the most up-to-date guidance and answering any questions that they may have.”

Pritzker had announced earlier that the state was ramping up testing at those facilities so that all residents and staff could be tested free of charge. Since April 19 when those efforts began, he said, the state has distributed more than 18,000 testing swabs to 68 facilities across the state.

More recently, he said Wednesday, IDPH secured a contract with New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics, which operates labs in Illinois, to process 3,000 tests per day for long-term care facilities and to report those results within 48 hours.

In addition to deploying nurses to long-term care facilities around the state, Pritzker said IDPH and the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation have simplified the hiring process for nurses so facilities suffering from staff shortages due to illnesses can quickly hire temporary staff.

Information about outbreaks at specific nursing facilities is available on the IDPH website.

Pritzker announced those efforts Wednesday as IDPH reported 2,253 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 92 virus-related deaths over the previous 24 hours. That brings the total to 50,355 cases, and 2,215 deaths since the pandemic first appeared in Illinois. Cases of the disease have been reported in 96 of the state’s 102 counties.

Also over the previous day, laboratories had processed 14,478 specimens for a total of 256,667 since the pandemic began, IDPH said.

Starting Friday, May 1, a new stay-at-home order will take effect in Illinois for 30 days. Under that order, all individuals will be required to wear some kind of face covering when they are shopping or in any other public setting.

Garden centers and nurseries will be allowed to open for business and other retail outlets will be allowed to take online and telephone orders for delivery or pickup outside the store. Golf courses will also be allowed to open under strict social distancing guidelines.

That order, however, is now the subject of two lawsuits filed by Republican lawmakers who argue that Pritzker is exceeding his authority under the state’s emergency management law.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul on Wednesday filed an appeal with the 5th District Appellate Court in Mt. Vernon and simultaneously in the Illinois Supreme Court of a Clay County circuit judge’s ruling from Monday that the new stay-at-home order will violate the civil rights of Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia.

“There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed our state, and government must balance the critical need to save lives with the economic hardships being felt by residents throughout Illinois,” Raoul said in a statement Wednesday. “Governors have historically renewed disaster declarations to meet the challenges of disasters that last longer than 30 days without objection, and a pandemic should be no different.”

The second lawsuit was filed in Winnebago County Circuit Court by Rep. John Cabello, R-Machesney Park, who is seeking an injunction to block the next stay-at-home order from taking effect. But Pritzker said Wednesday he will not back down.

“I think it's a similarly irresponsible lawsuit,” he said. “You know, we're in the business here of keeping people safe and healthy. That's what the stay-at-home order has been about. And I just think that lawsuit is just another attempt at grandstanding.”

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