CHICAGO (CBS) — Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker warned on Monday that hospitalizations for COVID-19 are at an all-time high in Illinois, and health care workers are facing challenges more serious than ever before in the pandemic.
“These health care leaders are here today with a simple plea – stay home if you can, and wear a mask if you need to go out,” the governor said at his daily coronavirus briefing on Monday afternoon.
Pritzker emphasized that the crisis is even more serious than it was in the spring.
“The nation has been swept by a COVID storm that has taken Illinois’ positivity rate from the low single digits to the mid-teens, 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,” Pritzker said.
As of Monday, the state was averaging 5,200 patients fighting COVID-19 in hospitals – 400 more than the spring high. The figure also represents a 70 percent increase in the last two weeks alone.
Doctors, nurses, EMTs, hospital social workers, and respiratory therapists are paying the price, Pritzker said.
“They’re exhausted, often working overtime and double shifts,” Pritzker said.
He also noted that the entire nation is setting record highs in hospitalizations – and that is not just a frightening backdrop. It also means no health care workers are there to call in as reinforcements from other states because they are overwhelmed in their own states.
Deaths are a lagging indicator relative to cases and hospitalizations, Pritzker noted. But already as it is now, deaths are up 260 percent from the start of October and 98 percent from just two weeks ago – now at 81 per day.
“With all other causes of death, we fight like hell to keep people alive,” Pritzker said. He noted that seat belts and drunken driving laws are there to prevent car crashes, flu shots for influenza, and research for cancer.
“We have to fight against this one too,” Pritzker said. “I know that it is incredibly difficult that we’re still living in this pandemic, and it’ exceptionally exhausting to think that for all that we’ve sacrificed, this new COVID storm is taking more and more lives,” Pritzker said.
But he also emphasized that if no action is taken, Illinois could end up like the Dakotas, where the per capita death rates are more than twice as high.
Two doctors joined the briefing by teleconference to talk about their situation. One of them, Dr. Michael Kulisz of Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb, said the numbers in that area have more than doubled from what was thought to be the peak.
Kulisz said he was confident that the hospital could implement surge plans quickly, but people still need to stay home, wear masks, and wash their hands.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ruth Colby of Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox emphasized the toll the pandemic is taking on everyone in the hospital. She said as of Monday, 60 hospital staffers can’t even come to work because they have been exposed to the coronavirus in the community.
The positivity rate in the Will County area has now exceeded 18 percent, Colby said.
She also urged everyone in the community to “please, please, help us stem the growth of this disease – especially during the holidays.”
Meanwhile, Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike emphasized that plans for Thanksgiving that involve large groups of people are going to have to be a no-go. She urged people to think about whom they are planning to host for Thanksgiving – and if that group might include people over 60, people with medical conditions, and others at high risk.
“You have to be thinking about all of these things before you bring additional people into your home,” Ezike said, “The best way to share this holiday is virtually. You really need to consider doing it that way.”
Pritzker himself said he and his family have often had families over to join their Thanksgiving because they would otherwise be alone – but they will not be doing so this year.
Public health officials on Monday reported 11,632 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, as well as 37 additional deaths.
COVID-19 cases in Illinois have skyrocketed in the past month-and-a-half. The state is averaging 12,384 new cases per day over the past seven days, compared to 2,052 new cases per day during the first seven days of October. Illinois has now reported at least 10,000 new cases of the virus for 11 days in a row, setting new daily case records six times during that span.
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