Facing two grim milestones in the battle against coronavirus, Illinois leaders on Thursday once again urged residents to resist “COVID fatigue” as cases of the virus soar, deaths tied to the virus climb, and hospitals fill.
The comments from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and public health officials came shortly after the state’s health department announced Illinois’ death toll during the pandemic has now surpassed 10,000. The state also recorded a new daily record for new COVID-19 cases, shattering the one set just days ago.
The state has now suffered 10,030 deaths due to the novel coronavirus since the pandemic began. Ninety-seven of those came in the last 24 hours, meaning Illinoisans were dying from the coronavirus at a pace of about one every 15 minutes.
“I hope that the public understands what it means when we see 10,000 new cases a day,” said Dr. Zaher Sahloul, a pulmonologist at Saint Anthony Hospital on Chicago’s West Side. “That means unfortunately, some of these patients will be admitted to the hospital – 20%, one out of five – and 5% [of those admitted] will die. And that’s what we have seen before. And that has not changed.”
For historical perspective, the virus’ 10,030 death toll here exceeds the combined number of Illinoisans who died in World War I, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf War. The current COVID death count also is a little under one-third of the nearly 35,000 Illinoisans who died in the Civil War.
About 23,500 Illinoisans died from the Spanish influenza pandemic between 1918 and 1919, state public health officials have said.
Illinois leads the country in total number of new cases for the past seven days, with more than 50,000, according to data compiled by the CDC. Per capita, Illinois is 9th in the country with about 56 cases per 100,000 people.
The latest data also showed 9,935 new COVID cases throughout the state in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of confirmed cases since the pandemic began to 447,491. The previous daily record was set last Saturday with 7,899 new cases reported by the state.
Gov. JB Pritzker lashed out at local officials across the state who have refused to enforce his administration’s COVID mitigations and predicted tighter restrictions ahead, though he stopped short of threatening a full-blown stay-at-home order like last spring.
“I can tell you these numbers are drastically increasing, and I can tell you that till I’m blue in the face. But if local leaders don’t step up, if high-risk industries don’t act accordingly, if families don’t put off that gathering or dinner party, if people don’t wear a mask, we’re heading down a very dark, dark path to where we were last spring,” he governor told reporters. “Let’s not let that happen.”
Through Wednesday night, Illinois hospitals had admitted 3,891 COVID patients, with 772 in intensive care units and 343 on ventilators.
The preliminary seven-day statewide positivity rate for cases between Oct. 29 and Wednesday is 9.1 percent. That rate represents confirmed cases as a percentage of total tests administered.
Hospital ICU units in Illinois are filling up
One of the biggest concerns during the pandemic is that hospitals would get overwhelmed with infected patients. The sickest patients are treated in intensive care units, or ICUs.
As of Wednesday, coronavirus patients were using about 20% of the total ICU beds in hospitals throughout Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. About 44% of those patients were on ventilators, but were using just 6% of the supply around the state. That’s a good sign, because it means Illinois has plenty of available ventilators for the most serious patients in the event that the outbreak continues to worsen.
But other very sick patients who don’t have the virus are in ICU beds, too. With 3,770 ICU beds in the state, patients are using 68% of them – those are people who have the virus and people who don’t – and 26% of the patients are on ventilators.
It’s usual for hospitals to get fuller during the flu season, but that hasn’t ramped up yet.
And depending on where patients get sick in Illinois, the hospital that treats them might be busier than usual.
Illinois public health officials divide the state into regions. The entire Region 5 in southern Illinois only has 99 ICU beds, and just over half of them were being used by patients as of Wednesday. They were using about 7% of available ventilators.
Region 11 encompasses the City of Chicago and has the most ICU beds in the state, with 1,045. As of Wednesday, about 73% of these beds were full, and patients were using about 28% of ventilators available.
In Region 10, home to suburban Cook County, 75% of ICU beds were full, and patients were using nearly one-third of ventilators available.
Chicago hospitalizations double
On Thursday afternoon, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady urged city residents to keep social distancing, wearing face coverings and resist COVID-fatigue.
“The hope is that we can turn this around and get to a point where we don’t need to admonish you,” Arwady said. “We know how to turn these curves around. We did it once before and the guidance has actually not changed very substantially.”
In Chicago, hospitalizations have doubled since early October and the city’s case positivity rate is now over 10%, meaning more than 1 in 10 coronavirus tests are coming back positive.
“Chicago cases are still growing without signs of slowing,” Arwady said. “Our doubling time is at 12 days right now. If we don’t slow this down and soon, we will have hundreds of thousands of cases by the end of the year.”
Arwady and the mayor spoke at a news conference announcing the re-allocation of $10 million in federal stimulus to independent bars and restaurants affected by COVID-19 restrictions. Last week, the governor closed indoor dining in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.
Lightfoot also announced plans to introduce city legislation that would temporarily cap fees imposed by third-party delivery apps like Grubhub, Postmates, and UberEats. In addition to the financial relief for businesses, the mayor said the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership will launch a platform to help hospitality workers find work.
Dave McKinney covers state politics for WBEZ. Kristen Schorsch covers public health. Becky Vevea covers city of Chicago politics. Follow them @davemckinney, @kschorsch and @beckyvevea. Reporter Mariah Woelfel contributed.