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As COVID-19 Cases Surge In Illinois, A Clash Over Safety Guidelines

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker answers questions from the media, along with Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, during his daily press briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic on May 22, in Springfield, Ill.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker answers questions from the media, along with Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, during his daily press briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic on May 22, in Springfield, Ill.

As cold weather envelops Illinois, the state is experiencing a massive upsurge in coronavirus cases, part of a trend across Midwest states.

This week, the state has seen an average of 4,747 cases per day, double the cases in the state from three weeks ago. On Wednesday, Illinois reported 6,110 cases and 51 deaths, the second-highest number of cases ever reported in a single day, Chicago's ABC affiliate reported.

In response to the spike, on Tuesday Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced the closing of all indoor dining and bar service in the state's largest city, Chicago, effective this Friday. But some local leaders across the state aren't supportive of the new guidelines.

Public health administrator Sandra Martell has been threatened with lawsuits from bar owners who want to continue to offer indoor service in violation of the governor's orders, reports NPR member station WITF's Christine Herman on Morning Edition.

"Our team spends more time having to do this than I really think that we would want to be spending our public health resources on," Martell said at a press conference this week, pleading with businesses to follow the state's orders.

Similarly, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike told Morning Editionhost David Greene that her office would prefer "to focus our energy on educating the public and getting the right data to them, but instead, we're now dividing our efforts on two fronts, trying to combat people who are actively working against what will keep our community safe. It's a continuous struggle."

Ezike says she understands the desire to return to a pre-COVID world.

"Unfortunately, the mixed messaging has not helped the public health cause at all," she said. "And the desire by people to believe in things which are comforting but not true is incredibly strong right now."

Ezike herself was overcome at a recent press briefing, when she began to cry as she reported new coronavirus deaths and thousands of additional cases. Speaking to NPR, she said she was experiencing a combination of pandemic fatigue, frustration, anger and anxiety.

"It was a visceral reaction," she said.

Since the press conference, she's heard from plenty of other people who feel the same way. "I guess I let something out for all of us," she said.

"I'm hoping that eventually, just with days, people understand that tomorrow still needs to be written and each of us gets to be an author and use our authorship to create a story not of continued doom, but of actually turning this pandemic around."

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