As the number of coronavirus infections continued to climb Monday, hospitals and state officials said they are hustling to free up as many hospital beds as possible in anticipation of a possible tsunami of sick patients in coming weeks and months.
At this point, Illinois hospitals still have more than enough beds and ventilators for people who need them. But with eyes toward Italy, where COVID-19 patients have overwhelmed hospitals, and New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has warned of a potential bed shortage, local health officials took additional actions.
Those included Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announcing plans to rent thousands of hotel rooms to isolate Chicagoans who contract the virus or are exposed to an active case, and an agreement with the operators of the recently shuttered MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island to provide additional rooms at the facility, starting Thursday.
Health officials are also still hoping that Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, issued last week, will slow transmission of the infection. As of Monday, Illinois had confirmed 1,285 cases and 12 deaths.
“We talked a lot about flattening the curve, and one of the goals of that is not to exceed the health care system capacity,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. “We’re doing all this because we want to avoid stressing the health care system, to the point where in Italy they are having hospitals that are absolutely full and not having enough of the ventilators. … It’s been hugely concerning for obvious reasons.”
The state has not released information about how many people with COVID-19 are now being treated in a hospital. Nor has the Illinois Department of Public Health provided estimates, despite multiple requests, of how many people it expects to get ill in Illinois, or how many hospital beds it expects to need.
But according to the state health department, as of Monday about 1,106 of Illinois’ 2,594 beds in adult intensive care units were empty, and about 1,595 of the hospitals’ 2,229 ventilators were available.
That’s more intensive care beds and ventilators available than last week. The health department noted that the number of available beds is fluid as patients are transferred in and out of rooms, and also that more overall beds have become available.
Most people who get COVID-19 do not get severely ill, but people who are older or have underlying health conditions are at greater risk.
About 78% of all Chicago patients with COVID-19 so far did not have to be hospitalized, a figure in keeping with worldwide averages, and none was 17 or younger, Arwady said Monday during her daily Facebook Live question-and-answer session.
Information about the number of hospitalized patients in Illinois also trickled out from some Chicago-area hospital systems.
Amita Health, which has 19 hospitals in Illinois, said it was caring for 13 COVID-19 patients as of Monday. Mount Sinai Hospital on the city’s West Side had one hospitalized COVID-19 patient and Holy Cross Hospital on the South Side had three, a spokesman said.
Other hospital systems, including Rush, Northwestern and Advocate Aurora Health, did not provide those numbers by deadline Monday.
In New York, Cuomo has said he expects at least 40% of New York City residents to catch the virus.
“At the current rate … we don’t have half enough hospital beds. We don’t have a third enough ICU beds, intensive care unit beds, with ventilators,” Cuomo said Sunday on CNN. "So we need tremendous capacity added immediately.” New York has announced eight temporary hospitals being built by federal authorities, although it was not clear how much that would alleviate capacity concerns.
At least one analysis has painted a picture of what might happen in Chicago, depending on how much city residents can flatten the curve.
If 20% of Chicago’s population is infected with the coronavirus over six months, the city’s hospitals would have about enough beds, so long as officials could free up about half the beds typically used by other patients, according to an analysis by researchers at the Harvard Global Health Institute and nonprofit news organization ProPublica.
Hospitals in the Chicago area have been working to make more beds available by canceling elective surgeries.
But if 40% of area residents are infected over the course of six months, there won’t be enough beds, even if hospitals free up half the number typically in use. Only spreading the infections out over 12 or 18 months would help ensure enough beds are available if the virus infects 40% of residents, according to the analysis.
If Illinois residents “follow and comply with the governor’s order to stay home unless you’re an essential worker working at an essential business, we can slow down the spread of the virus and extend it over a longer period of time, enabling hospitals to have the capacity to treat the patients who need to be cared for,” said Danny Chun, a spokesman for the Illinois Health and Hospital Association.
“If people don’t do that, there is the potential that hospitals will not have the staff, the resources or the beds to take care of everyone.”
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.