The conversion of Chicago’s McCormick Place into a 3,000-bed hospital should be completed by the end of April, representing the cornerstone of Illinois’ efforts to build extra medical capacity for a flood of expected COVID-19 patients, Gov. JB Pritzker announced Monday.
The governor said the race to ensure Chicago and the suburbs’ existing hospitals aren’t swamped beyond capacity also includes plans to convert two suburban medical facilities into regional COVID19 care centers: the Advocate Sherman Hospital campus in Elgin and the shuttered MetroSouth Health Center in south suburban Blue Island.
“If we never have to go beyond our existing facilities, we will all be extremely happy,” Pritzker said in his daily briefing on the coronavirus outbreak. “But since we can’t guarantee that and in fact we don’t have the data yet to suggest otherwise, we’re actively building out capacity.”
The focus on more hospital beds came as COVID-19 claimed eight more people in Illinois, bringing the death toll to 73. One of the dead was an inmate at the Stateville Correctional Center, marking the first Illinois prisoner to die from the virus.
Additionally, 461 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed by the state Monday, increasing the total caseload to 5,057. That is almost double the number of confirmed cases statewide from four days ago.
Anticipating a huge new demand for hospital space, Pritzker said 500 beds are being set up at McCormick Place this week, followed by 500 more next week, and another 1,250 by the week of April 20. By month’s end, 750 more acute-care beds will be installed at the exposition hall, bringing the total to 3,000.
The McCormick Place hospital mostly will be dedicated to non-acute COVID-19 patients who are not in need of intensive care treatment, the governor said.
“Of course, as I’ve said before, this is an evolving situation, and if experts determine down the line McCormick Place should be dedicated to a different set of criteria, we will shift our mission to follow the medical experts’ best advice,” Pritzker said.
The work is being spearheaded by the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after consultations with Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City.
“The use of McCormick Place signals a new phase in our citywide response to the COVID-19 crisis as we expect to experience a peak in cases in the coming weeks,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who joined the governor at the briefing Monday.
“This new space will relieve the burden on hospitals and help ensure every individual receives the care that they need,” the mayor said.
Beyond the rapid-fire medical build-out, Monday’s briefing touched on several other issues in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic:
More supplies coming to Illinois: Pritzker announced the state has purchased 5.5 million N95 masks and 5.55 million surgical masks from private providers, with shipments expected by the end of the week. In addition, the state bought 500,000 KN95 masks, 10,000 infrared thermometers and 4 million surgical masks, which will be on their way later. The governor did not have an estimate of how much it’s all costing the cash-strapped state. “Honestly, the cost is a consideration,” he said. “We don’t want to get gouged in any of those things, but I’m focused on delivering the healthcare necessary to keep as many people as safe, healthy and alive as I can.”
White House’s promised delivery a no-show: Pritzker has repeatedly chided the federal government’s response to the pandemic, particularly when it comes to obtaining medical supplies, including the in-demand N95 mask used by health-care providers. The governor did it again Monday, when he outlined how the state received a new shipment of supplies from the federal government Sunday, but it contained the wrong types of masks. “My team is sorting through the shipment of 300,000 N95 masks the White House personally told me would be sent to our state. And while we do not have a final count on this yet, I can say with certainty that what they sent were not the N95 masks that were promised but instead were surgical masks, which is not what we asked for.”
Is Illinois flattening the curve? The number of cases in Illinois that public health officials announced Monday greatly fluctuated compared to the weekend. On Sunday, the state announced 1,105 COVID-19 cases, a steep jump from 465 cases Saturday. But on Monday, that number fell to 461. When asked to explain the large swings, Pritzker and the state’s public health director, Ngozi Ezike, said that it had to do with the inconsistency in the way tests are processed. Test results from state-run laboratories, for instance, come back more quickly than test results from commercial labs. Ezike said the public needs to look at trends — and not at one particular day — to see how responses like stay-at-home orders are working. And she cautioned that more grim news is coming: “What science has taught us, what epidemiology teaches us, is that we know we’re still in an exponential growth phase. And so we will continue to see increasing numbers, and yet, despite that, we know that that does not represent all the cases we have in Illinois.”
When will Illinois’ stay at home order end? The short answer is: Pritzker still doesn’t know. “We’re looking at the models trying to figure out what does this look like going forward and how to best keep people safe and healthy,” Pritzker said when asked whether he’s considering extending his stay at home order that ends April 7.