Pritzker asks hospitals to postpone surgeries as Illinois braces for huge influx of COVID patients

Hospitals already are treating the most coronavirus patients they’ve seen in more than a year, with nearly 5,700 beds occupied as of Wednesday night.

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Nurse practitioner Capri Reese takes a minute to herself in an elevator after an 80-year-old man suffering from COVID-19 died at Roseland Community Hospital in April 2020. Illinois is bracing for yet another major surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Nurse practitioner Capri Reese takes a minute to herself in an elevator after an 80-year-old man suffering from COVID-19 died at Roseland Community Hospital in April 2020. Illinois is bracing for yet another major surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is urging Illinois hospital leaders to delay elective surgeries and other non-emergency procedures to keep more beds open for another expected wave of COVID-19 patients as the state weathers its largest case surge of the pandemic. 

Pritzker issued the hospital edict Thursday as the state set yet another troubling record with more than 30,000 confirmed infections in a single day. Hospitals are already treating the most coronavirus patients they’ve seen in more than a year, with nearly 5,700 beds occupied as of Wednesday night — fast approaching the peak of last fall’s resurgence, when nearly 6,200 beds were filled. 

“We’re asking our residents to temporarily hold off on important medical care like tonsillectomies, bariatric surgeries and hernia repair,” Pritzker said in a statement. “As we work to keep ICU beds open, I continue to applaud the efforts of our hospitals and health care workers across the state, who have been heroes for us all.”

The strain is being felt at care centers across the state as the Omicron variant races through unvaccinated communities. About 89% of intensive care unit beds were filled heading into New Year’s weekend, including more than a thousand COVID-19 patients — the most since Dec. 17, 2020. More than half of those patients were using ventilators, another one-year high figure. 

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ICUs were about 90% full in Chicago, and 95% in Will and Kankakee counties — leaving only six critical care beds available for the south suburban region that’s home to more than 800,000 people. 

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said about 90% of the new hospital admissions are unvaccinated residents. About a quarter of eligible Illinoisans still haven’t gotten a shot. 

Combined with a shortage of health care workers due to burnout after nearly two years and five major resurgences, Ezike said hospitals are being pushed to the brink. 

“We want to make sure that there is a hospital bed available for anyone for any reason — cancer complications, appendicitis, stroke, heart attack, car crash, or COVID-19,” she said. “Please get vaccinated and get boosted, for all of us.”

While Omicron is causing more breakthrough cases, experts say all COVID-19 vaccines protect against severe cases that result in hospitalization or death. 

“Hospitals cannot end this pandemic on their own. They need the continuing help and support of the public,” Illinois Health and Hospital Association CEO A.J. Wilhelmi said. “The best way to support your hospitals is to get vaccinated.”

Vaccines are free at pharmacies nationwide, and the city also offers free in-home vaccination appointments. For more information, visit chicago.gov/covidvax or call (312) 746-4835.

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