CHICAGO — The grieving parents and widower of McClean County's youngest coronavirus victim delivered a plea to the public Friday to take the threat of the virus seriously.
Speaking at Gov. J.B. Pritzker's daily news conference, the family of Danielle "Dani" Rubin Kater recalled they were not especially worried when the 30-year-old first developed symptoms of COVID-19 on Oct. 27.
The next day, a Tuesday, Kater lost her sense of smell and taste, according to her husband, Tim. She was tested the next day, and they began to quarantine.
"Over the weekend, her breathing got a little bit harder, but nothing that we were ever concerned about. We just thought it was part of getting sick and we just needed to get through it," he said. "And it wasn't until we bought a pulse oximeter on Monday morning that we knew how bad it was."
Tim Kater said his wife went to the hospital the same day. Initially doctors were able to restore her oxygen levels, and she was able to send text messages from her hospital bed, he said.
"We were all relieved, then later that night her oxygen levels dropped. They put her on a ventilator, which kept her oxygen from going down further, but it never came back up," he said. "Then they did an ECMO [life support] procedure, and very shortly after that she passed away on Tuesday morning."
Dani Kater had no preexisting health conditions and no affiliation with any long-term care facility, according to local public health officials.
Tina Rubin, her mother, said she wanted to take the pain and negative energy of losing her child and channel it into something productive. The family contacted the governor's office in an effort to share their story, according to Pritzker.
"We lost our only daughter. Tim lost the love of his life," Rubin said. "But through this we want something positive. You know, these aren't just numbers. These aren't just statistics. These are real people with real lives and real futures that have been stolen by this virus."
The Macon County Community Foundation has also established the Dani Rubin Kater Memorial Fund for COVID Care in her name. As a first initiative, it will provide pulse oximeters and digital thermometers to everyone who tests positive for the virus in Macon County.
"If we can have one person stay home, do something positive for someone else by making sure they quarantine when they are sick, follow all the CDC restrictions," Rubin said. "I know everyone is tired, but you just have no idea the devastation losing someone brings to a family. "
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said no one is getting through the pandemic unscathed and asked the public to have patience and compassion for people with whom they disagree.
"Just as real as the virus is, so is the COVID fatigue that is accompanying it. And we're all tired of this virus, and we're tired of staying home and we're tired of denying ourselves our common pleasures," Ezike said. "But instead of blaming the virus for these concessions we've been asked to make, we're looking to blame one another. So I just want to urge people to be kind.
"For every person who is screaming that they have to have in-school learning, you have others who are adamantly against it. For every person who wants to have dinner inside of their favorite restaurant, there are those who are worried about their own personal safety and their lives."
Ezike said the hospitalization situation has become "dire" in parts of the state, with public health officials playing a "game of checkers" to move patients between hospitals with available space.
"We are not at the point where we're going to have anybody just flailing in the hallway because we can't get them a bed." she said. "The whole point of the increased mitigation in the Tier 3 is that we don't get that. Because that is a real possibility that has happened in other parts of this country, in other parts of the world, we're not going to let that happen in Illinois, but it takes all of us to make sure that that doesn't happen."
In the past three weeks, the number of people hospitalized with coronavirus in Illinois has risen from 3,000 to more than 6,000. Recently, state public health officials updated their regional hospitalization data to reflect the number of available beds that can be adequately staffed, according to Ezike.
Pritzker said he has spoken with the chief medical officers of major hospitals who have expressed great concern over the speed and trajectory of new COVID-19 hospitalizations.
"People have been pushing this online, this idea that, 'Oh, there's plenty of space in hospitals.' They're not looking forward," the governor said.
"That's what people are pushing, is the idea that, 'Gee, if we're only at 76 percent, we're doing fine.' Remember there are a whole bunch of people that are in the hospital who have nothing to do with COVID, so what you're looking at is directionally, and the speed at which COVID patients are filling up these beds," he said. "So we're trying to look forward weeks, right? So that we don't end up at Christmastime with the situation where they're at 105 percent."
Pritzker said he has seen many posts online about one hospital or another having plenty of room available.
"That's not a good way to look at it," he said. "You have to look at what the trajectory is, how fast it is that they're likely to fill up, how fast they're coming into the emergency room and ending up in a bed."