Gov. Pritzker says turnaround time for test results still lags

CHICAGO — More than 15,000 Illinois residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 82 more residents have died from the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the state Department of Public Health said Wednesday.

The 1,529 new COVID-19 cases and the 82 additional deaths represent the largest single-day totals, said the department's director, Dr. Ngozki Ezike.

Winnebago County Public Health officials reported nine new cases of the disease, including positive cases at two separate long-term care facilities: Anam Care and Alden Alma Nelson Manor. Both facilities are working with the health department to take additional precautions to limit the spread of the virus.

The state has reported 462 deaths to date. Cases have been reported in 78 of Illinois' 102 counties and the age of people who have contracted the virus ranges from younger than 1 to older than 100 years.  Winnebago County now has 76 cases, including three deaths.

"These are our highest numbers to date and, although the numbers are still increasing, I will tell you that the rate they are increasing is less and that is a good thing," Ezike said. "We are not seeing the exponential growth that we were before. Physical distancing must be, has to be, the way we reduce this virus. Please stay home."

Tracking the curve

Gov. JB Pritzker expressed frustration that state labs in Chicago, Springfield and Carbondale are not yet able to provide a total of 10,000 COVID-19 test results each day.

"We have only recently just surpassed 6,000 tests in a 24-hour period and we will not reach the 10,000 mark this week," Pritzker said.

One of the three state labs recently added a third shift of workers to quicken the pace of testing for COVID-19. Additionally, the state recently acquired five high-volume RNA extractor machines to provide more test results at a faster rate. But the machines are not yet producing reliable results, the governor said.

"I will not sacrifice accuracy for the sake of speed," Pritzker said. "These tests and results they will provide are too important. We have to get this right."

Ezike said her department is also striving to obtain equipment necessary for antibody tests that will play a critical role in the  fight against COVID-19.

"Results from antibody testing will identify individuals who can return to work and who donate plasma — the liquid component of blood — to treat those who are seriously ill with COVID-19," she said. "But the bigger priority now is obtaining testing that will detect the virus."

Isaac Guerrero:; @isaac_rrs