Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker says the second surge of the pandemic has brought hospitalizations beyond where they were during spring's peak - and this time it could be worse.
Illinois had previously reached its hospitalization peak roughly six months ago, but as the state's latest wave lifts the number of average patients in Illinois facilities well above 5,000, the state is seeing record numbers.
As of Monday, Illinois was averaging more than 5,200 coronavirus patients in state hospitals, a number that is 400 more individuals than the spring high, and a 70 percent increase in the last two weeks alone, Pritzker said.
According to state data, 5,581 residents are currently in hospitals due to coronavirus-like illnesses in Illinois. Of those patients, 1,144 are 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.
"The nation has been swept by a COVID storm that has taken Illinois’ positivity rate from low single digits to the mid teens," Pritzker said. "And with nearly no mitigations in the states bordering us and no national strategy to reduce the spread, we’re in for a very difficult next few months."
According to the governor, the latest surge is even more troublesome because it's happening at a time when cases and hospitalizations are rising nationwide.
"That fact is more than a frightening backdrop – because it means there are no healthcare workers to call in as reinforcements from other states," Pritzker said. "It means that the out of state nurses and nurses assistants who signed up to support Illinois in the spring are busy in their own states."
He also noted that during the spring, cases and hospitalizations were largely centered on urban areas, but the latest surge is bringing increases statewide.
Region One, in northwestern Illinois, and Region Seven, home to Will and Kankakee Counties, have both "long since surpassed the worst COVID-19 hospitalization rates they ever saw in the spring," Pritzker noted. Region One has more than doubled its spring peak, and Region Seven is at 150% of its spring peak, the governor said, adding that "they are not outliers."
"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," Pritzker said. "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."
On top of the current surge, Illinois hospitals are preparing for the potential that the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays could lead to increases in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
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.
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."
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."