CHICAGO (CBS) — With more than 1,200 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Illinois as of Friday, Gov. JB Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot celebrated the completion of the first phase of turning McCormick Place into an alternate care site aimed at preventing the state’s hospital system from being overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.
“I’m genuinely blown away by what’s happened here,” Pritzker said as he and Lightfoot toured the convention center, which now has 500 hospital beds for COVID-19 patients. “When I walked into this building and saw how it was transformed in just five days, I was truly flooded with an overwhelming sense of pride and patriotism.”
Meantime, the Illinois Department of Public Health said there have been 1,209 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Friday, including 53 more deaths. The state has now had a total of 8,904 coronavirus cases, including 210 deaths, in 64 counties.
No patients yet are being treated at McCormick Place; and, ultimately, Pritzker said he hopes the facility isn’t needed at all to treat COVID-19 patients.
“That is honestly what we are praying for. If no patient ends up at McCormick Place, then we will have done our job. People will have stayed at home, they will have done what they needed to do to bend this curve, and for people not to get sick,” Pritzker said.
Crews have assembled 500 rooms and beds; 14 nursing stations; and full support rooms for supply storage, pharmacy needs, and housekeeping at McCormick Place. Nearly 140 healthcare workers are prepared to staff the first 500 rooms and beds at McCormick Place.
“A hospital bed is just a bed until it has the staff and equipment to turn it into a place to treat COVID-19,” Pritzker said.
The governor said the facility will have 3,000 beds by the end of the month, larger than the largest hospital in Illinois.
“Monumental round-the-clock dedication is what got this done before we need it; preparing for saving lives in the event that things become as bad as some have predicted,” he said.
Lightfoot said it will be the largest alternate care site in the country. The facility will be used to treat COVID-19 patients with low or moderate symptoms, so hospitals can focus on more serious cases, especially those who require ventilators or other intensive care treatment.
The facility will be divided into three units:
- Unit 1 will provide initial capacity for 500 patients, with tri-walled spaces for low-acuity patients;
- Unit 2 will provide capacity for 1,750 patients, providing open-space care for fully mobile, low-acuity COVID-19 positive patients;
- Unit 3 will provide negative-pressure isolation pods for up to 750 patients exhibiting high transmission symptoms.
“The timing of this facility is no accident. Since this crisis reached our city’s doorstep, we have been working day and night in partnership with the governor, the state, and the county to take proactive measures to make sure we stay ahead of the capacity that might be needed in the event of a surge of this virus,” Lightfoot said.
Walsh Construction was in charge of building the infrastructure for the facility, with the support of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, and the Illinois National Guard. The $15 million project was financed by $15 million in federal emergency funding.
“These great contractors, these great tradesmen that stand behind us, they are the power of your U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They’re the ones who actually build things. They are getting this done. Rest assured, together, as a nation, with partnerships like this, we are going to win this war against that enemy (COVID-19)” said Army Corps of Engineers Maj. Gen Robert Whittle.
The Army Corps of Engineers helped come up with a standard design for the rooms being installed at alternate care sites like McCormick Place, and Whittle said they have eight awarded contracts across the U.S., three of them in Illinois.
Dr. Nick Turkal, former CEO of Advocate Healthcare, will be the executive director of the McCormick Place treatment facility.
He noted the site will not be a traditional hospital, admitting patients on its own, but will treat overflow patients from hospitals across the area.
“This will never be a place that has an emergency room. It will never be a place that people come to the front door and admit themselves. This is a place that will relieve some of the strain from our hospital partners,” Turkal said. “I think it’s really important for the public to know that, so there won’t be any confusion about who should come here, or how to get here. Your healthcare providers, your doctors, your hospitals, they will direct you to this site if it’s appropriate.”
Turkal said staff at McCormick Place likely will work in 12-hour shifts to minimize the number of people coming and going, and reduce the need for personal protective equipment. He said officials have not finalized plans for how many days per week staff will work, and he declined to say how much workers will be paid.
The governor said workers also have launched efforts to build out alternate care sites at the former Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, the former MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island, and the former Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park.
Work also soon will begin at the first alternate care site downstate, at the former Vibra Hospital in Springfield.
“I never want to get to our place where our families, where our friends don’t have a place to heal, or where our hospitals don’t have the capacity to give them the best chance possible to beat COVID-19,” Pritzker said.
The city of Chicago also has reached an agreement with two hospitals to provide housing for healthare workers who interact with COVID-19 patients. The 200-room London House and 225-room Godfrey Hotel will reserve rooms for doctors, nurses, orderlies, lab technicians, custodial staff, and other hospital workers on a first-come, first-served basis.
Lightfoot said, like the rooms available to first responders at Hotel Essex, the rooms at London House and Godfrey Hotel are not for front-line workers who are sick, but for those who need a place to rest, and want to avoid the risk of possibly taking the virus home to their families.