Illinois hospitals are preparing for the potential that Thanksgiving and Christmas could lead to increases in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations as metrics continue to surge leading up to the holidays.
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."
The concern has prompted new warnings from Illinois officials, who are now urging families to avoid gathering for the holidays and to instead keep their celebrations virtual.
Chicago and suburban Cook County have issued stay-at-home advisories, effective Monday and continuing for 30 days, urging residents to avoid gatherings with people who don't live in their home. The Illinois Department of Public Health issued similar stay-at-home recommendations statewide.
"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," Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned Monday. "So we are keeping in close touch with hospitals on an individual, system-level and region-level basis to monitor who is at risk of running out of staff or ICU beds in the next three weeks. But I want to be clear. We can’t create new staff for a hospital that’s filled to the brim. We can’t staff more ICU beds if a hospital’s personnel get sick outside of work because people in their communities refuse to wear a mask or follow any of the mitigation rules."
"We can expect much worse to come if mitigation measures aren’t followed leading into Thanksgiving," he added.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike echoed those claims Monday, warning that "our hospitals are on their way to being overwhelmed."
"We can all see it things are getting worse and so those initial [Thanksgiving] plans that you made several months ago or several weeks ago, they may need to change," she said.
Even then, it may not be enough, doctors warned.
"Even if we don't have a surge after Thanksgiving, it's still going to be very taxing on our healthcare system, the sheer numbers of people who are infected," Citronberg said. "If Thanksgiving turns out to be super spreader events, if Christmas turns out to be super spreader events, we're going to see numbers that we couldn't even possibly imagine. So pretty confident, unfortunately, that the next couple of months are going to be bad no matter what, it's just a question of how bad."
Illinois saw its hospitalization numbers continue to increase on Monday with 5,581 residents currently in hospitals due to coronavirus-like illnesses. Of those patients, 1,144 are currently in intensive care units, and 514 are on ventilators.
All three statistics are the highest metrics the state has seen in their respective categories since the first peak in COVID-19 cases earlier this year.
Doctors have expressed optimism over news of a potential vaccine, with both Moderna and Pfizer reporting promising trial findings, but many noted that the concern remains for the weeks and months ahead.
"The next two to three months are going to be very difficult no matter what, but there clearly is light at the end of the tunnel and that light is the vaccine news," Citronberg said. "It is very likely that by this time next year, we will be looking at COVID-19, at least the pandemic, in the rearview mirror and that is just fantastic news. But the next two to three months are going to be very difficult - lots of hospitalizations, lots of deaths, unfortunately. Just have to meet one more big push to get through it."