Hospitalizations for people with COVID-19 reached a record for the entire pandemic in Illinois Monday, according to data from the state's health department, and officials fear the number will only grow at the start of the new year in wake of holiday gatherings.
As of Monday's metrics, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 6,294 people were hospitalized with coronavirus. The previous record for hospitalizations was set in November 2020, when numbers sat at 6,175 on Nov. 20.
The previous record had been set on Dec. 24, when 21,131 cases were reported, according to IDPH data.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker gave a COVID-19 update in Illinois Monday, where he warned that "hospitalizations are nearly as high as they were last winter when vaccines weren’t yet widely available." The state's latest metrics were released just before his address.
"With the holidays still only a week or two in the rearview mirror, I fear the
climb will continue as the virus incubates in those who were exposed at the
end of December," he said.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike added that the state is seeing an average of 550 people admitted to Illinois hospitals each day "and 90% of those people are not vaccinated."
"Although initial information indicates that omicron may not cause as severe illness as delta, we are not seeing fewer people in the hospital because there are just so many more people with COVID, period," she said.
The record hospitalizations come alongside a record rise in cases as the new omicron variant continues to take hold across the state and country.
Illinois obliterated its daily record for new confirmed and probable COVID cases on Thursday, reporting more than 30,000 new cases of the virus.
Last week, Pritzker and hospital leaders urged medical centers to postpone non-emergency surgeries to help keep beds clear for COVID patients.
Pritzker and the Illinois Health and Hospital Association announced a joint effort to try to prepare for what they call a “likely surge of post-holiday omicron COVID-19 cases,” and to help address potential shortages of staffed ICU beds in hospitals across the state.
The governor cited tonsillectomies, bariatric surgeries and hernia repair as examples of procedures that could be safely delayed amid the ongoing surges in COVID cases and hospitalizations.
As of late Sunday evening, the state reported just 316 ICU beds remained available out of 2,977 staffed beds.
Advocate Aurora Health said it was treating 1,491 inpatients with COVID on Monday. At the same time, the 26-hospital system is also managing a critical labor shortage.
"Ninety-two percent of our inpatients are either unvaccinated, have only received the first dose of the vaccine or are due for a booster," said Mary Beth Kingston, chief nursing officer at Advocate Aurora Health. "Of the 8% who are fully vaccinated, most had an underlying condition or were immunocompromised."
Advocate Aurora has once again implemented a no-visitor policy. They're also asking asymptomatic patients with low risk to test at home, instead of crowding overwhelmed emergency rooms.
In addition to delaying non-emergency procedures, hospital leaders are also implementing other strategies, including stepping up telehealth visits, reallocating staff resources and working to expand ICU capacity.
Pritzker also extended state waivers to allow out-of-state health care employees to work in Illinois, and is encouraging all hospitals to implement new CDC guidance that accelerates return-to-work timeframes for asymptomatic COVID patients.