Sen. Durbin hits the ‘frontline’ of the county’s battle against COVID-19

Debra Carey, the interim CEO of Cook County Health, joins Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Sen. Dick Durbin to talk about the county’s COVID-19 response. | Rachel Hinton/ Sun-Times

The battle against the deadly coronavirus should include more money for testing, Durbin said, standing outside of tents that serve as walk-up and drive-thru testing sites for county health patients and employees on the hospital grounds.

Sen. Dick Durbin visited Stroger Hospital Friday morning, calling the hospital the “frontline of a battle against COVID-19” ahead of a potential vote on a bill that could provide another round of funding for testing.

The battle against the deadly coronavirus should include more money for testing, Durbin said, standing outside of tents that serve as walk-up and drive-thru testing sites for county health patients and employees on the hospital grounds.

“The good news is that there’s $483 million coming into the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago from that federal appropriation that was announced last night with the Centers for Disease Control,” the Springfield Democrat said.

“That is money that will be used for testing — we absolutely, positively need to have even more. A new bill before Congress that may be voted on today could provide another $75 billion for testing, and when the president stands up and says ‘we have prevailed over COVID-19,’ he is just flat out wrong. … This is still a battle that we have to win.”

Half of the 250 patients at the county’s marquee hospital have COVID-19, Debra Carey, Cook County Health’s interim CEO, said. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said caring for those who seek the county’s help, sometimes without a means to pay for the care they receive, has proved a “tremendous challenge” for the health care system.

“This health and hospital system has served our county for 180 years. It’s always taken in anyone who comes through our doors regardless of their race or gender, sexual orientation, immigration status or ability to pay,” Preckwinkle said. “And this challenge, this pandemic challenge, just reflects the incredible health inequities that we see in our county and our country … This is not a red state or a blue state issue, local government all across the country are hurting.”

The county is already facing a $200 million revenue shortfall because of the pandemic’s effect on the economy, and yesterday the county reached a grim milestone, surpassing Queens County in New York as the U.S. county with the most coronavirus cases Thursday, based on a Sun-Times analysis of the latest public data.

As of Thursday, there were 58,457 total cases of COVID-19 recorded in Cook County, which includes all of Chicago and many suburbs, after officials added 2,051 new cases in the last 24 hours. Queens, by comparison, added only 336 cases over the same time frame to bring its total to 58,084.

Durbin said more federal help would be needed to help lower the coronavirus case load.

“If we are going to fight this successfully, spare people suffering and death, if we’re going to reopen this economy, we can’t announce we have prevailed,” Durbin said. “We have not prevailed, [the] battle still continues, but testing is critical to prevailing, this $483 million to our state will help. We need more.”

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