- Associated Press - Friday, April 3, 2020

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The governor of Illinois and mayor of Chicago on Friday re-christened North America’s largest convention center as a pandemic-battling field hospital and publicly hoped it would never see a single patient.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot toured a section of Chicago’s McCormick Place with the first 500 of what will be a 3,000-bed “alternative care facility” designed to relieve pressure on city hospitals from rapidly mounting COVID-19 cases.

Pritzker also recommended for the first time that people wear face coverings when venturing outside, reporting his decision shortly before the federal government announced a new, similar recommendation, which remains optional.

But as for the transformed showroom floor, a vast honeycomb of steel wall-enclosed patient areas already fitted with a bed apiece, Pritzker hopes that his statewide stay-at-home order, crippling business closures and the social-distancing guidelines will be enough to reverse the steeply rising curve of infections from the potentially deadly coronavirus.

“That is honestly what we are praying for. If no patient ends up at McCormick Place, then we will have done our job,” Pritzker said. “People will have stayed at home, they will have done what they needed to do to bend this curve and for people not to get sick.”

Absent such vigilance, Pritzker warned last week that a worst-case scenario would require that the state find an additional 38,000 hospital beds, including 9,000 in intensive-care units, to handle COVID-19 patients.

His Public Health Department reported Friday that there are now 8,904 cases, up 1,209 from a day earlier, and that a single-day record 53 had died, bringing the fatality total to 210.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.

Aside from the 3,000 McCormick Place beds, which won’t be fully available until month’s end, the state has arranged for another 730 beds at previously closed hospitals in the Chicago suburbs of Elgin, Blue Island, and Melrose Park. Pritzker announced a fourth location Friday, a closed hospital in Springfield.

Lightfoot has announced that the city has reserved at least 1,000 hotel rooms for mild COVID-19 cases. On Friday, she reported a deal that will make 425 rooms at London House and the Godfrey Hotel available to frontline healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients who aren’t sick but who prefer not to go home and potentially expose family members.

Pritzker relayed his opinion on face coverings before President Donald Trump’s administration late in the afternoon made public its updated advice that people should cover their faces outdoors, but it remains optional. Trump said he will not.

The issue has become one of the nation’s more important debates of late. Initially, the question was whether a face covering would protect the wearer from picking up the virus. Now, it’s recommended that someone with a covering cannot as easily transmit the virus if a covering is blocking coughs or sneezes.

“This virus can be spread through droplets, like when you sneeze or cough. So blocking that by wearing a mask in public seems like a commonsense way to do what’s right for everyone,” Pritzker said. “The most important thing you could do frankly is stay home.”

Elsewhere, the Rockford Park District said it removed about 80 backboards or hoops to discourage people from congregating. Aledo has canceled an annual June event that brings thousands of people to the small western Illinois town: Rhubarb Fest.


Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

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