State officials this afternoon announced that the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Illinois has increased to 422 — up by 134 from Wednesday.

Cook County, including Chicago, with 278 cases, has 43% of the state’s population but 66% of its COVID-19 cases.

The number of those case in Evanston rose from 10 Wednesday to 14 today. That makes the confirmed infection rate for Evanston nearly four times greater than for Cook County as a whole.

Editor’s note at 6:55 p.m.: City officials this afternoon posted a count of 15 cases to the city’s website, but this evening they said that count was in error and the actual number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Evanston as of today is 14. We’ve updated the story to show the revised number.

The number of people who have died from the disease across the state increased to four from one.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said the latest people to die were a Will County resident in his 50s, a Cook County resident in her 80s and an out-of-state resident in her 70s who was in Sangamon County when she died.

“We ask everyone to please, stay home as much as possible so we can reduce the number of people who are infected and potentially suffer serious illnesses, including death,” Ezike said.

As of today 22 counties in Illinois have reported COVID-19 cases. That’s up by five from yesterday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said much of the increase in confirmed cases is a result of the rapid expansion of testing. As of today’s report, 3,151 people have been tested, that’s an increase of more than 50 percent from the total number of tests that had been completed by Wednesday.

But Pritzker said he expects the growth in the number of confirmed cases will not abate any time soon.

He said he is considering having the national guard set up mobile testing units and is considering re-equipping and reopening previously closed hospitals.

“We have to slow the nubmer of new cases and have the resources to treat those who are sick,” Pritzker added.

At the afternoon news conference, Rob Karr, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, announced a list of supermarkets that have established special hours for senior citizens to shop, in an effort to reduce their risk of exposure to the virus.

And the governor encouraged business owners who’ve suffered losses as a result the disease to apply for disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

He also said owners of bars and restaurants that made less than $75,000 in sales tax payments to the state last year will be allowed to defer sales tax payments that normally would have been due from March through May and pay them in installments through August instead.  

In response to a question from a reporter who noted that Indiana has decided to keep schools closed until May 1, Pritzker said no decision has been made to extend the closure of Illinois schools beyond March 31, but that parents should be contemplating the possibility that the school closure might be extended.

Late in the afternoon Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that Chicago Public Schools will remain closed until April 20.

Asked whether he’s considering a statewide shelter-in-place order, Pritzker was non-committal, saying “I’m looking at all of these things literally every day” but is basing decisions on guidance from state and fedeal health authorities.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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