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CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a plea Saturday for retired health care workers to “join the fight” against the coronavirus as Illinois’ health care system braced for a surge of patients amid the pandemic that has now killed six state residents.

Illinois confirmed 168 new cases Saturday of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, boosting its total number of cases to 753. A sixth death was also reported, a Cook County man in his 70s, said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike.

Pritzker pleaded for retired health care workers, including doctors, nurses and physicians assistants to “come back and join the fight against COVID-19″ hours before the state entered his “stay-at-home” order that will continue through April 7.

“We’re in the middle of battle and and we need reinforcements,” the governor said during a Saturday afternoon briefing.

Pritzker said the state would expedite licensing and waive fees to usher retired health care workers heeding his call back into the health care system. And workers whose licenses will soon expire will be automatically extended through September, he said.

“This is hero’s work, and all of you have our deepest gratitude for your willingness to serve,” Pritzker said.

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The state’s coronavirus cases could reach 3,400 within a week, the governor’s office said.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

As of 5 p.m. Saturday, Pritzker’s order requires Illinois residents to remain in their homes except for essentials, joining similar dramatic efforts in California and New York to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Residents can still go to the grocery stores, put gas in their cars, take walks outside and make pharmacy runs under the order.

“What’s important now is to try to reduce the further spread and prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed,” Ezike said.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot urged residents to stay calm and shop responsibly during a Saturday morning news conference.

“There’s absolutely no need for people to rush to grocery stores or hoard any food or supplies,” Lightfoot said. “We are in constant communication with major retailers to maintain a strong food supply. And they have and they will. Everything will remain stocked and available.”