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81 new deaths as coronavirus cases top 19,000 in Illinois

State officials and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker speak at a press conference Saturday afternoon in Chicago | Photo: Illinois Information Service.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a new mental health help line as the number of coronavirus cases increased by 1,293 and 81 new deaths on Saturday.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) said the state’s COVID-19 total has reached 19,180 cases and 677 deaths. The number of people tested so far is at 92,779, data shows.

“We are living in a deeply unprecedented moment, and holding the emotional ramifications of that inside will only be harder on you. Please know that you don’t have to feel it all alone,” Pritzker said.

“My administration is here to serve you and help see you through this time of crisis – I want you to know that we’re here to help,” Pritzker added.

The Illinois Department of Human Services’ Mental Health Division has launched a free-of-charge emotional support text line, Call4Calm, for Illinois residents experiencing stress and mental health issues related to COVID-19.

Those who would like to anonymously speak to a mental health professional can text the word “TALK” to 552020. People can also text words such as unemployment, food or shelter to 552020 and receive information on how to navigate and access support.

Pritzker also announced the state has launched a new Remote Patient Monitoring Program utilizing Telehealth Services and Pandemic Health Worker (PHW) Programs in partnership with OSF HealthCare and Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

“To help see all our residents through this pandemic, the Department has contracted for these specific at-home COVID-19 supports for anyone in the state regardless of whether they are insured,” said Theresa Eagleson, Director of Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

“We’ve also significantly expanded telehealth and remote options to ensure access to health care, including addiction and mental health treatment, for our over 3 million Medicaid members,” Eagleson added.

Pandemic Health Workers (PHWs) will digitally connect with members in the community who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and need to stay home or quarantine to protect themselves and others.

PHWs will virtually visit recipients daily, deliver wellness kits that include essential tools to monitor their health, and follow-up over a 14-day period to ensure no further assistance is needed. Wellness kits will include items such as thermometers, pulse oximeters, blood pressure cuffs, and alcohol wipes.

“Through this statewide program, the state of Illinois will safeguard hospitals from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, limit the spread of the virus, and digitally support those needing care,” the governor’s office said.

A person is eligible for the program if he or she is showing COVID-19 symptoms, or is at high risk for contracting the virus, but does not require emergency or inpatient care, and can be digitally monitored at home. A person must call the COVID-19 hotline for a final determination of eligibility for the Pandemic Health Worker Program, officials said.

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“Generations of systemic disadvantages in healthcare delivery and healthcare access in communities of color, and Black communities in particular, are now amplified in this crisis all across the state and across the nation,” Pritzker said at his press conference Friday.

“We are making sure that our plans reflect equity in access, testing and treatment and we are asking the same of healthcare providers across the state. It’s in moments of crisis that we owe each other even greater expressions of humanity,” Pritzker said.

Through a partnership with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and four Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) on Chicago’s South and West Sides, Illinois will expand testing in these communities over the next several days to an additional 400 tests per day.

The state has prepared 2,000 hotel rooms across Illinois for alternative housing to help residents who test positive quarantine in a safe space.

The state has facilities with rooms that could be ready to be activated next week in Springfield, Rockford, Metro East, the Quad Cities, Schaumburg, Mt. Vernon, Peoria, Carbondale, Quincy, Marion, Macomb, Champaign and the collar counties. The state is also supporting the City of Chicago and Cook County in building out their own response, the governor’s office said.

“Across Illinois, multi-generational families live in one home, and in our cities, families or roommates live in smaller apartment units that make self-isolating much more difficult,” a statement from Pritzker’s office said.

“These rooms will be available to help address that need and will be available to residents who tested positive for COVID-19 but do not require hospital-level care or for asymptomatic high-risk individuals who need social distancing as a precautionary measure. These rooms will also be available to medical professionals and first responders,” the statement said.

Residents will be able to access these resources through their local health departments and the Illinois Department of Public Health has directed $6.8 million dollars of its COVID-19 response funds to support every health department across the state.

On Thursday, Pritzker said that Illinois is bending the coronavirus curve and there’s evidence the state is moving towards a flatter curve.

“Our rate of rise is looking less and less exponential. That indicated to us that we are in fact bending the curve. There’s even some evidence that we may be moving toward a flatter curve. But we need to keep watching the data on a daily basis,” Pritzker said.


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