McCormick Place ready for potential patient surge as Illinois tops 8,900 coronavirus cases

The new figures were announced with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot unveiled the first phase of a field hospital at McCormick Place that could soon treat up to 3,000 people.

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A field hospital is set up at McCormick Place Friday afternoon. The first phase of the makeshift facility will have 500 beds for COVID-19 patients, officials said.

Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

Health officials on Friday announced 53 more deaths across Illinois have been attributed to the coronavirus, another record daily high that raises the statewide death toll to 210 since the pandemic first hit.

The state’s case tally now stands at 8,904, with another 1,209 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Nearly three quarters of the cases have been reported in Cook County, which accounted for 33 of the latest deaths, officials said. That included a man in his 30s, though most cases have affected older people. 

And it has spread across nearly two-thirds of the state map, with cases confirmed in 64 of 102 counties. More than 48,000 people have been tested for the virus so far.

The latest numbers were announced as Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot unveiled the first phase of a massive field hospital being set up with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers at McCormick Place East.

“Five short days ago, this was an empty convention hall. There was truly nothing here,” Pritzker said. “I’m genuinely blown away by what’s happened here.

“When I walked into this building and saw how it was transformed in just five days, I was truly flooded with an overwhelming sense of pride and patriotism.”

Three exhibition halls at the convention center are being converted into medical wings, one of which had 500 beds ready to use by Friday, officials said. Another 2,500 beds will be installed in stages to meet what officials say could be a peak in coronavirus diagnoses in Chicago around mid-April.

But in a best-case scenario — if Illinois hospitals aren’t filled to capacity with a surge COVID-19 patients — it’s possible no one ends up being treated at the makeshift care center.

“That is honestly what we are praying for,” Pritzker said. “If no patient ends up at McCormick Place, then we will have done our job, people will have stayed at home. They will have done what they needed to do to bend this curve and for people not to get sick.”

Pritzker and Lightfoot took a brief tour of the convention center’s Hall C led by Christina Bratis, the clinical chief of staff of the McCormick Place Alternative Care Facility.

”This is nobody’s ideal, obviously, for where they would like to convalesce in a hall like this, but this is an emergency so we’ve tried to make this so they could be as comfortable as possible,” Bratis said. “Every room has a cot, blankets, face mask applications, earplugs and their own outlets, have entertainment if they need it and [can] communicate with their family.”

Each room has a cot, sheets and a blanket, a mask, a toothbrush and small bowl. There’s also a standup light, a chair and a towel, as well as the outlets required for any medical equipment and a stand for that equipment.

Hall B, normally home to the Chicago Auto Show, will be set up with 750 beds for the more moderately sick patients, officials said. It’s projected to be done by April 24.

Cynthia McCafferty, McCormick Place spokeswoman, said IEMA has a lease agreement with McCormick Place and that includes making sure everything is spotless — and removing everything, cleaning and disinfecting. 

”One of the benefits of a place like this is it’s a heck of a lot easier to clean than say a hotel room, because if you can see, surfaces can be soaked,” McCafferty said. “We’ve already been cleaning ever since this began.”

McCafferty said there were 400 workers on site on Thursday building “24/7.” She said the first supplies arrived on Sunday night “and they were unloading until the wee hours of the morning.”

Hall A is expected to have 1,750 beds ready by the end of April.

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