CHICAGO (CBS) — While we still see a stunning number of new COVID cases every day in Illinois, some on the front line are seeing a trend they call “very encouraging.”

As CBS 2’s Chris Tye reported, the trendlines are moving in a surprising direction at Rush University Medical Center – and that direction is down.

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These are numbers that often are leading indicators of where overall virus numbers are heading region-wide – and while they’ve been burned before, even some of the grizzled vets on the front line are optimistic.

The concern last Friday inside the ER at Rush was that a hospital overflow was just revving up amid the COVID surge.

“I believe that there is a worse storm ahead of us,” Dr. Edward Ward told CBS 2’s Tye just one week ago.

But that storm Dr. Ward was bracing for may have taken a turn for the better.

“Things are better than they were a few days ago,” Ward said Friday. “That should give us some encouragement.”

One week ago, the numbers were increasing steadily. Nut in the last few days, a major slowdown has emerged.

“Fewer people coming to the ER for treatment; of those people, fewer people being admitted to the hospital; fewer people needing intensive care unit level of care,” Ward said. “We have less of our staff either being sick, and more of our staff coming back from being furloughed from sickness.”

Dr. Ward is quick to point out this drop in numbers may not be statistically significant, but he also doesn’t think this is limited to Rush. In fact, other hospitals contacted Friday by CBS 2 have similar trends.

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Loyola University Medical Center is seeing it, and so is UChicago Medicine.

“We are beginning to see a slight decrease in the number of inpatients with COVID-19, however we do not know if this is a trend that will continue,” UChicago Medicine said in a statement.

But the trend is not represented everywhere.

“Unfortunately, we are still experiencing high patient volumes throughout our 11 hospital health systems,” Northwestern Medicine said in a statement.

Still, Ward said, “If we are saying that we’re now at the plateau – and there is evidence to suggest that – then this surge will be over faster than the prior two.”

At Rush, they’ll take the trend – understanding it can easily reverse. But driving down COVID numbers weeks earlier than expected offers a chance for a deep breath, a smile, and an ounce of optimism.

“This is the most optimistic I’ve been in the last two to three months – easily,” said Ward.

The doctor is very quick to point out that these early signals should do nothing to make you let down your guard, your mask, or your responsibility to get vaccinated.

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And again, they stress the point at Rush that this is just a few days of data and the trends can reverse quickly. Still, the data are hopeful, and having so much of the staff back on the job – replenishing the front lines – will help significantly too.