Saying that marginalized and minority communities face greater health risks amid the coronavirus pandemic, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker on Friday called for measures to increase testing in predominantly African American communities.
Pritzker said communities of color, especially black communities, have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic.
"The data accumulating over the last few weeks has shined a bright light on what seems like a uniquely American problem," Pritzker said. "Many could have told what it would highlight long before the data drew the picture: Generations of systemic disadvantages in health care delivery and in health care access in communities of color and black communities in particular."
Pritzker said the state is working to expand testing capacity and facilities in communities of color. The expansion includes facilities on the south and west sides of Chicago capable of obtaining 400 samples a day and in the East St. Louis area, where next week facilities will be capable of taking 470 samples a day. Drive-thru testing services in the Harvey and Markham areas will open next week, Pritzker said.
His call for increased testing in minority communities came as the Illinois Department of Public Health announced 1,465 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, including 68 additional deaths.
Illinois has reported a total of 17,887 cases, including 596 deaths, in 83 counties. Winnebago County public health officials said nine more people had tested positive for the disease, bringing the total to 93 cases, including seven deaths.
Tracking the curve
Pritzker indicated that staying at home appears to be working to level out the number of new coronavirus cases. He said that even as Illinois has ramped up testing he believes the numbers indicate a "glimmer of hope."
"When you look at the statistics, I think what people see in those numbers is that there is a leveling going on," Pritzker said. "I see these numbers, maybe not first, but I see them early and before I look at them, I must admit to you, I pray. And I think about are the numbers going in the right direction."
Among the new deaths was a Cook County Jail detainee, identified as 51-year-old Leslie Pieroni, who was pronounced dead on Thursday night at St. Anthony Hospital in Chicago, where he had been treated since April 3. An autopsy will be conducted to determine an official cause of death, but the Cook County sheriff's department said preliminary indications are that he died of complications of COVID-19.
Pieroni was one of 276 detainees to have tested positive for the virus and one of 21 the sheriff's department said was hospitalized as of Thursday night. His death came hours after a federal judge ordered Chicago's Cook County Jail to take prompt action to stop the spread of the virus, including by making sure that the more than 4,000 detainees have access to adequate soap and sanitizer.
Pieroni had been in custody since December 2018, when he was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a child, according to the sheriff's department. He was charged with predatory criminal sexual assault and aggravated criminal sexual abuse and a judge ordered him held without bond.
He previously had been convicted of a sexual offense and was charged in 2017 with failing to register as a sex offender.
The first inmate at the jail to die after testing positive for the coronavirus was 59-year-old Jeffery Pendleton, on Sunday.
Sheriff Tom Dart said the jail has already taken all but one of measures ordered by the judge, including supplying inmates with sanitizer three weeks ago.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Jeff Kolkey: firstname.lastname@example.org; @jeffkolkey