Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike shared a message to those who believe the coronavirus is no worse than the flu or is "just another cold."
"The bottom line is that it's real and it is worse than a typical cold," she said during Wednesday's coronavirus update. "This 'not real' virus is overwhelming our hospitals. Right now, it's taking up one out of every four hospital beds that's occupied in the hospitals across our state. This 'just another cold' is putting hundreds of people in the ICU and on ventilators."
According to Ezike, estimations show the flu causes anywhere from the 12,000 to 61,000 U.S. deaths annually. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports during the 2019-2020 influenza season, CDC estimates showed influenza was associated with 38 million illnesses, 18 million medical visits, 405,000 hospitalizations, and 22,000 deaths.
"This year alone we have more than 246,000 deaths attributable to COVID-19," Ezike said Wednesday. "We have to call out the untruths. We have to speak truth. COVID-19 is very real and it has been very deadly for so many."
According to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the 11,014 fatalities attributed to the virus in Illinois make it the third-leading cause of death in the state, trailing only heart disease and cancer.
According to IDPH data, the virus caused more fatalities between March and October than strokes and accidents, the fourth and fifth-leading causes of death in the state, combined.
Ezike added she also hears people say "it's only older people or those with health conditions" who die from coronavirus.
Of the 140 deaths reported in Illinois Wednesday, two were in their 30s, three were in their 40s and nine were in their 50s, according to IDPH data.
"The populations at greater risk are our elderly, but I believe that the death of a 90-year-old or a 50-year-old or a 20-year-old all matter," Ezike said.
The state's top public health official warned that while people can believe what they want, their actions also affect others.
"If people want to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that this virus doesn't exist or it's not that bad, I guess they're free to do so. What you should not be able to do is risk the health of other individuals and everyone that you come into contact with because you won't wear a mask or because you won't stop hosting or going to events or gatherings or because you won't socially distance," Ezike said. "You don't have the right to expose another person to a potentially deadly virus. So even if you can't see how real this virus truly is, can we at least agree to be respectful of others and wear a mask and keep our distance?"
Pritzker warned that without interventions, the state could see between 17,000 and 45,000 more fatalities before March 1, 2021, according to models cited by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Already some communities are seeing bed shortages emerge as more residents are hospitalized due to the virus.
Several Illinois hospitals are now reporting more coronavirus patients than during the spring peak as medical professionals warn of trying months ahead, information provided by multiple hospitals reveals.
"Thanksgiving dinners have the potential to be super spreader events," Dr. Robert Citronberg, executive medical director of infectious disease and prevention for the hospital system, said Monday. "It's so critically important that we do not do that. The numbers are devastating right now. Our health care system cannot absorb doubling or tripling of those numbers. It might happen if we have many super spreader events arising out of Thanksgiving."
As of midnight, 5,953 patients are currently hospitalized due to COVID-19 or coronavirus-like illnesses, the highest number of patients afflicted with the virus since the pandemic began. More than 1,100 of those patients are in intensive care units, the highest number since the spring peak, and 547 patients are currently on ventilators.
"Everyone's actions affect others," Ezike said. "And remember if you really want to give thanks this Thanksgiving, give the gift of life and not put someone's life in danger."