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COVID cases in Illinois still surging as Pritzker warns of more deaths, stress on health care system

“We’re absolutely seeing the highest surge in cases from across the entire pandemic for the past two years,” the state’s top health official warns.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a coronavirus briefing in November.
“If we are forced to move to a crisis standard of care in our hospitals it will be because massive numbers of unvaccinated people chose to let others go without quality care and even more people will die,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

More than 21,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported in Illinois Friday, another daily record, followed by a surge in hospitalizations over the weekend as Gov. J.B. Pritzker pleaded with people to get vaccinated and wear masks.

“The pandemic is surging and threatening the health of Illinoisans,” Pritzker said at a Monday news conference.

There were 79 deaths reported statewide Friday, according to state data. Hospitalizations are rising too, putting a strain on health systems. The state’s top health official said about 500 new COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospitals in just the past day.

“We’re absolutely seeing the highest surge in cases from across the entire pandemic for the past two years,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said at the news conference.

Pritzker said the state will increase the number of vaccination sites across the state, including an expansion of mobile sites, which already number more than 5,000. The state’s community-based testing sites will increase operation from four days a week to six days a week. Illinois also will help provide local health departments with additional staffing, he said.

Both Pritzker and Ezike implored people to get vaccinated, get booster shots and wear masks. They warned that New Year’s Eve parties will likely lead to many more cases if precautions aren’t taken.

While the new variant Omicron is a great concern to public health officials, many of the new COVID-19 cases appear to be the Delta variant, Ezike said. Both are highly contagious.

“Every single event being held during this holiday season will have one or two uninvited, unwanted guests, Delta and or Omicron,” Ezike said. “This is a difficult holiday season, especially for the family and friends of the 27,435 people here in Illinois who have died of COVID … we don’t have to continue to lose people.”

The vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated, Ezike said.

Pritzker warned of a looming crisis at hospitals.

“What kind of year 2022 turns out to be depends on all of us doing what is best for all of us,” Pritzker said. “If you are unvaccinated and you get very sick, you will be filling a bed that would be available for your ailing spouse or your parent or your child or someone else’s child.”

At Franciscan Health South Suburban, COVID-19 cases have jumped from 10% of patients to more than 40% in three weeks, Chief Executive Allan Spooner said at the news conference. More than 70% of critical care patients are COVID-19 cases, he added.

Physician and staff infections have risen at Franciscan as well, he added, “exacerbating an already precarious staffing shortage across health care.”

Hospitals in Chicago and across Illinois have been struggling with the rapid increase in virus cases, which are filling up emergency rooms and intensive care unit beds. Advocate, the state’s largest hospital chain, said Monday it has 675 COVID-19 patients, up from 270 a month ago.

“If we are forced to move to a crisis standard of care in our hospitals, it will be because massive numbers of unvaccinated people chose to let others go without quality care and even more people will die,” Pritzker said. “If you are choosing not to be vaccinated for some non-medical reason, please change your mind.”

Last week, city and Cook County officials announced COVID-19 vaccination requirements for anyone who wants to visit a restaurant, bar or gym beginning Jan. 3. Pritzker said those initiatives can be examples for other municipal governments, though he said it’s their decision at the local level.

Chicago officials have fallen well short of goals to get residents in some communities vaccinated, especially on the South Side where less than half of residents in some neighborhoods have received any shots.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.