CHICAGO (CBS) -- As new coronavirus cases in Illinois continued to surge on Thursday, Gov. JB Pritzker scolded people who have been flouting social distancing guidelines by gathering in large groups outside to take advantage of the warm weather this week, prompting Mayor Lori Lightfoot to shut down the lakefront, the 606 trail, and the Chicago Riverwalk.
"This virus doesn't care that you're bored and that you want to hang out with your friends. It doesn't care that you don't believe that it's dangerous. The virus could care less if you think that I'm overreacting. It has infected infants. It has killed people in their 20s, and 30s, and 40s. It has forced doctors around the world to make terrible decisions about who will live and who will die," Pritzker said at his daily briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 cases in Illinois continue to surge, with 673 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus on Thursday, including seven new deaths, according to Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. Illinois now has 2,538 total cases in 37 counties, and 26 total deaths.
"Of course, we know that we're in a period of exponential growth, and so we know that the numbers are going to have these giant rises," Ezike said.
Ezike said, fortunately, Illinois so far is falling under early predictions for the number of cases expected here, but she said that can only continue if people continue following the advice of staying at home, except to go out for essentials like food and medicine. She thanked Illinois residents who have been obeying the governor's "stay at home" order, and following advice to stay six feet away from others, and avoid crowds of more than 10, but she chided those who have not.
"it may not seem like it now, but you are helping us get to the end, and eventually get to returning to our regular normal. To those who continue to be outside disregarding social distancing guidelines, I'm begging you to think of your fellow man, woman, and child," she said. "We need our entire community to perform these important tasks, or else we suffer the consequences for all."
The reprimands from Ezike and the governor came shortly after Lightfoot announced she was closing the Chicago lakefront -- including all of its beaches, parks, and trails -- as well as The 606 trail, and the Chicago Riverwalk, after seeing too many people gathering close together in large crowds outside.
"I urge us all to not become complacent. It's the only way we're going to end this pandemic. Let's actively work together for the betterment of all. I know that as the weather warms up, we are tempted to get together and socialize, but we need to look forward and look for the big picture," Ezike said. "There's a lot at stake, and we can't go for short-term wins at the cost of our society. Let us not grow weary in well doing. Let's stay strong and stay the course. It's the only way we can spread of COVID-19. We have to reduce the number of people who get ill. We have to reduce the number of deaths. We can end this pandemic."
Pritzker said, while the vast majority of people in Illinois have been following his "stay at home" order, he has seen too many people still gathering in large groups.
"Throwing all caution to the wind in the midst of a deadly pandemic is not acceptable. You are putting not just yourself but your family and your friends in danger. You're also putting strangers in danger as you come in contact with them. Sometimes it'll be a parent or a child, someone you don't know, someone's spouse or loved one," he said.
The governor said large crowds gathering outside has been a problem not just for Chicago's lakefront, but for other parts of the state. Pritzker said he understands people want to be able to enjoy their freedoms, even in the face of his order, but he begged anyone that doesn't need to be outside to stay inside, and anyone that does go outside to find somewhere that isn't crowded.
"Right now, hosting a party, crowding down by the lake, playing a pickup basketball game in a public park; if you're doing these things, you are spitting in the face of the doctors and nurses and first responders who are risking everything so that you can survive. We are quite literally in the middle of a battle to save your life," he said.
As for crowds that have formed in grocery stores as people stock up on food and other supplies during the "stay at home" order, Pritzker said people already have been urged to stay six feet away from others while they're shopping, but he noted there are still some who doubt the reality of the pandemic.
"There's still people out there that don't believe that this is real. Well, they should go to the hospital today. Go walk in. See what's going on at the hospitals. Talk to your healthcare provider," he said. "I don't want them to go to the hospital, because I don't want them to get infected, and I don't want them to infect anybody, but the point is they should see what's happening around, and look at the numbers."
Meantime, Pritzker said President Donald Trump has granted his request for a major disaster declaration for Illinois, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This declaration will provide emergency funding to increase hospital and housing capacity as we respond to this unprecedented health crisis. This declaration also provides resources to expand telehealth, allowing us to safely reach more Illinoisans in need of care," Pritzker said.
The governor said he's also seeking another disaster declaration for all 102 counties in Illinois to access the Federal Emergency Management Agency's individual assistance program. That would give Illinois more access to unemployment benefits for those not currently eligible for state benefits; more assistance for those seeking emergency food, shelter, and supplies; new legal services; and financial aid for the underinsured.
The announcement of a disaster declaration for Illinois comes a day after the U.S. Senate passed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package. The House is expected to vote on the measure on Friday.
"Something miraculous has happened in Washington. We've actually done something on a timely basis," U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said.
The senator noted the stimulus bill now headed to the House would be the third emergency spending package approved by Congress since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak; following an $8 billion stimulus bill and a $104 spending package earlier this month.
"So far we've been able to work together and put aside political differences. Isn't that exactly what the people of Illinois want in this moment in history? I think it is," Durbin said.
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