By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Illinoisans should stay home as much as possible, wear face coverings and rethink their Thanksgiving plans as hospitalizations for COVID-19 continue to rise, state officials reiterated Monday.
“We are in for a rough ride for the next three months or so,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said at a COVID-19 briefing Monday. “Just how bumpy it really gets depends on each of us. Let’s hang in there together and be all in for Illinois.”
She warned that Illinoisans should rethink Thanksgiving plans that include travel or mixing households and should consider virtual get-togethers and dropping off food at a family member’s doorstep instead of gathering in person.
Gov. JB Pritzker warned that current hospitalization trends, if left to grow at the pace they have been for several weeks, could overwhelm the hospital system, noting, “we have just 1,100 ICU beds open in a state of nearly 13 million people in the middle of a pandemic.”
“If we wait to take action until our hospitals are full, it will be too late, and countless patients – COVID patients as well as those with all the other ailments and injuries that bring people to the hospital – will die unnecessary deaths, because there aren’t enough beds or people to staff them.”
The calls came as hospitalizations for COVID-19 increased for the 22nd straight day as of Sunday night, setting a new pandemic high with 5,581 hospital beds in use by COVID-19 patients. The average daily usage from Monday, Nov. 9, to Sunday, Nov. 15, was 5,268, an increase of 1,225 or 30 percent from the week prior.
As hospital bed usage continued to blow past previous pandemic highs, intensive care bed usage neared past highs as well, with 1,144 ICU beds in use by COVID-19 patients at the end of Sunday. That number had increased for 11 straight days, and the 1,002 beds used on average daily from Nov. 9-15 marked an increase 203 or 25 percent from the previous week. The one-day usage was the highest since May 16.
Ventilator usage for COVID-19 hit its highest point since June 3 with 514 ventilators in use at the end of Sunday. Average daily usage from Nov. 9-15 was up 113 or 32 percent from the week prior.
Ezike and Pritzker appeared at their daily briefing in Chicago along with a pair of hospital administrators that called for statewide participation to slow virus spread but also encouraged Illinoisans not to be afraid of visiting the hospital should serious illness arise from COVID-19 or other medical conditions.
Dr. Michael Kulisz, an emergency medical specialist and chief medical officer at Northwestern Medicine, said two hospitals he’s affiliated with in Region 1 of the state’s mitigation plan in northwest Illinois have more than doubled the peaks of the spring.
“It’s important for the community to understand that each of the hospitals is a safe place to come to,” he said. “I know early in the pandemic, some patients opted to stay home because of the fear that it wasn’t safe at the hospital, but the hospitals have put a lot of things in place, including (personal protective equipment), hand washing stations, and visitor policies that does make it safe for patients to come.”
Still, he said, as the positivity rate in Region 1 hovers around 20 percent, community members should avoid exposure to COVID-19 by staying in when possible, keeping distance from others, masking and washing hands.
Ruth Colby, president and CEO of Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, echoed Kulisz, noting that several hospital workers and nurses have had to quarantine because of virus exposure in the community.
“My message is that every time someone in the community does not wear a mask or observe the other safety precautions you’ve outlined, that creates the potential for a health care worker to contract COVID, and we’re urging everyone in the community to please, please help us stem the growth of this disease, especially over the holidays,” she said.
Pritzker warned that reinforcements in terms of medical professionals from other states are not likely to arrive during this wave since the COVID-19 surge appears to be nationwide.
“We can expect much worse to come if mitigation measures aren’t followed leading into Thanksgiving,” he said, noting the state continues to monitor the need for field hospitals.
From Saturday to Monday, the state reported an average of 11,097 new cases among 96,604 tests reported each day, making for a three-day positivity rate of 11.5 percent. The rolling seven-day average case positivity rate decreased to 12.5 percent over that span.
The state reported 275 deaths over the three-day period, bringing the death toll since the pandemic began to 10,779 among 585,248 confirmed and probable cases and more than 9.1 million test results reported.
Pritzker noted there was “wonderful news on the vaccine front” Monday as pharmaceutical company Moderna announced it had a vaccine with an early success rate nearing 95 percent. But he noted that candidate and a vaccine from Pfizer still must pass future phases relevant to their safety and efficacy before they are used. And even then, it could be well into 2021 before a vaccine becomes widely available.
“We have real hope for possible widespread distribution by early spring,” Pritzker said. “Still, that’s months away. So we have to let that inspire us not to give up, and to take more precautions for ourselves and for our health care workers. Let’s do all that we can to save lives now, so that more Illinoisans, more Americans will be here when the vaccine is here.”
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.