Region 1

Illinois' Top Doc: ‘This is Setting Up to Be a Very Deadly COVID Christmas and New Years'

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Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike warned Friday that "this is setting up to be a very deadly COVID Christmas and New Years" as she delivered an address about rising metrics in one state health care region.

"Hospital bed availability has reached a critically low level, demand on resources is high and the wait times in local emergency departments are very long," Ezike said in her address to Region 1, which encompasses several counties surrounding the Rockford area.

Ezike said that while the human toll of the virus has been explained repeatedly, the economic toll of yet another surge is also climbing.

"This virus is devastating the economic stability of our counties with the same intensity we have witnessed in human victims and the toll it has taken on families all across the region," she said. "Here in the northern Illinois Rockford region, hospitals are seeing COVID admissions rise at an alarming rate."

Region 1 serves several northern Illinois counties, including Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside, and Winnebago Counties.

According to the state's health department, the current rate of COVID-19 cases in Region 1 "is concerning and effects not only healthcare systems, but long term care facilities, schools, local businesses, and the arts and entertainment sector."

As of Wednesday, state data showed the region had a 9.2% positivity rate as hospitalizations continue to steadily climb and the number of available ICU beds drop.

Speaking in the same virtual press conference as Ezike, North Boone Community Unit School District Board President Ed Mulholland noted that the rise in cases is leading to staffing shortages for area schools.

"We've recently had 16 staff members out and there is not capacity in our learning community to make up that many staff," he said. "At some point, if this continues, we will be forced to reevaluate our strategies, as other school districts in the region have already done. We currently have 218 students quarantining out of a total student population of 1,600. As you can imagine, the impact on student learning is huge."

Officials in Winnebago County last week issued a disaster proclamation amid increasing numbers of COVID cases and hospitalizations in the area.

In a statement, Winnebago County Board Chairman Joseph Chiarelli said his experience being hospitalized for COVID compelled him to make the decision.

“My experience being hospitalized with COVID identified a need for not only prevention, but intervention, and I want to advocate for additional treatment options to be readily available to Winnebago County residents,” he said in a statement.

Expanded access to treatments, including monoclonal antibodies and other types of in-person and virtual care will also be given to individuals who have tested positive for the virus, according to a release.

As cases escalate around the state, Winnebago County has been one of the areas hardest hit by COVID cases in recent weeks.

The rise in cases is also being seen statewide.

Illinois on Thursday reported nearly 12,000 new cases of coronavirus in the previous 24 hours, the largest single-day increase in new cases in more than a year.

According to the latest figures from IDPH, the state recorded 11,858 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 during that time. That number is the largest the state has seen in a single day since Dec. 1, 2020, when 12,542 new cases were reported to state health agencies.

The previous high watermark for 2021 had been set just two weeks ago, when 11,524 new cases were reported on Dec. 2.

The state also hit another inauspicious milestone on Thursday, as it is now averaging more than 8,000 new cases of the virus per day over the last week. That marks the first time the state has seen that number of new cases since Dec. 15, 2020, according to IDPH data.

On Friday, state health officials reported 59,312 new COVID-19 cases over the past week, along with 316 additional deaths and over 467,000 new vaccine doses administered. The new cases and deaths mark a continued increase over the last several weeks following the Thanksgiving holiday.

The uptick comes as the state prepares for possible spread of the omicron variant after two confirmed cases were identified. The cases have so far been reported in Chicago and suburban Cook County.

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