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Health care workers, kids want people to stay home: ‘A virtual Thanksgiving will potentially prevent an ICU Christmas’

At the “Please Stay At Home” press conference organized by Cook County Health, a handful of health workers and their children urged Chicagoans to avoid traveling, gathering on Thanksgiving.

Mia Lopez, 7, speaks at a news conference Monday, Nov. 23, 2020 organized by Cook County Health. With her is her mom, Heather Prescaro, an emergency department nurse. They and other Cook County Health staff are asking residents to stay at home for Thanksgiving to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Mia Lopez, 7, speaks at a news conference Monday organized by Cook County Health. With her is her mom, Heather Prescaro, an emergency department nurse. They and other Cook County Health staff are asking residents to stay at home for Thanksgiving to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Seven-year-old Mia Lopez has one holiday wish: Please stay home, everyone.

Mia’s mother, Heather Prescaro, is an emergency department nurse at Cook County Health.

And while Mia is proud of her mom for helping to battle COVID-19, she also wants that fight to end, and soon.

“My wish is for everyone to stay home, so they don’t get the COVID. So everyone can be healthy and safe,” Mia said at the “Please Stay At Home” press conference organized by Cook County Health.

Mia and her mom joined other workers and their children on Monday to urge Chicagoans to stay home during the holiday season, in order to curb the spread of the virus.

“The surge is hitting faster and harder than it did in March. In my career I’ve never seen anything like this and hospitals across the country are becoming overwhelmed,” said Dr. Michael Hoffman, lead physician of the COVID-19 units at Cook County Health.

Dr. Michael Hoffman, lead physician of Covid-19 units for Cook County Health, speaks about the importance of taking proper precautions during the holiday season during a press conference Monday, Nov. 23, 2020 at the Cook County Health Professional Building, 1950 W. Polk St.
Dr. Michael Hoffman speaks on Monday about the importance of taking proper precautions during the holiday season and not traveling for Thanksgiving.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

State public health officials reported 8,322 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 Monday as well as 47 additional deaths. As of Sunday night, 6,171 people with the virus were reported to be in the hospital.

Hoffman said for the first time in 15 years, he won’t travel for Thanksgiving, and he begged others to follow suit.

“I know that this is a lot to ask, but a virtual Thanksgiving will potentially prevent an ICU Christmas, or worse,” he added.

Mason, 7, knows people want to celebrate the holidays with their families because he does, too. But he asked everyone to stay home because he knows just how hard doctors work.

“My mom [Jillyan Iwinski] is a respiratory therapist. She helps patients with COVID breathe. She works really hard because she cares about the patients. I know we all want to celebrate the holidays, but please stay home,” he said.

Nimmy Tom, a clinical nurse at Cook County Health, has been on the front line for seven months, all while pregnant.

“I would like to be able to stay home and care for my new child for the first days of her life,” she said. “But if this surge continues, I will have to come back to work to help my colleagues out.”

Cook County Health held a press conference Monday to urge residents to stay home and not gather with other relatives this Thanksgiving. At the lectern are (from left) Dr. Ashlesha Patel, chair of Family Planning and Gynecology, and her children Roan, 13, Anaiya, 12, and Kieran, 15. The news conference was in the Cook County Health Professional Building at 1950 W. Polk St. on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020.
Cook County Health held a press conference Monday to urge residents to stay home and not gather with other relatives this Thanksgiving. At the lectern are (from left) Dr. Ashlesha Patel, chair of Family Planning and Gynecology, and her children Roan, 13, Anaiya, 12, and Kieran, 15.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Hoffman hopes current restrictions and mitigations will help, but the public’s cooperation remains vital. His concern was most recently piqued by photos of travelers at O’Hare Airport.

“When those images came out, I actually thought it was a playback of what Thanksgiving travel used to be like in years past. As a doctor and a health care provider, I’m deeply concerned,” he said.

AAA projects that 50 million Americans will travel for Thanksgiving this year, but that’s down just 9% from last year’s estimate of 55 million.

Dr. Sharon Welbel, chair of infection control and hospital epidemiology at Cook County Health, said the health system’s two hospitals — Stroger and Provident — still have enough ventilators available, but they want to make sure it stays that way.

“It takes the general community doing their part,” Welbel said. “If they don’t help, we’re not gonna be able to control this spread.”