As Illinois sees COVID-19 hospitalizations surge 30% in a week, leaders say please no Thanksgiving gatherings

The number of COVID-19 patients in Illinois hospitals surged by 30% in a week, reaching a high of 5,581, as medical workers warned of burnout and state leaders implored residents to celebrate Thanksgiving at home without guests Monday.

New COVID-19 cases numbered 11,632 and additional deaths from the respiratory disease came to 37, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported.

"Hospitals are on their way to being overwhelmed," IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike said.

The latest number of patients, current as of Sunday night, surpassed a peak of 5,037 in late April during Illinois' initial virus surge. The seven-day average is 5,268 compared to 4,043 hospitalizations Nov. 2-8.

"The numbers are devastating right now," Advocate Aurora Health physician Robert Citronberg said.

"Our health care system cannot absorb doubling or tripling of those numbers as might happen if we have many super-spreader events arising out of Thanksgiving," added Citronberg, executive medical director of infectious disease and prevention.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the state is "keeping in close touch with hospitals ... to monitor who is at risk or running out of staff or ICU beds in the next three weeks. But I want to be clear - we can't create new staff for a hospital that's filled to the brim."

The governor, who owns a vacation property in Florida, did not answer a question about whether he would stay in Illinois for Thanksgiving.

"That is my hope, but I will let you know," Pritzker said.

The state's virus test positivity rate is 12.5% based on a seven-day average.

Total infections statewide are 585,248 statewide and fatalities are 10,779. The seven-day average of Illinoisans dying from COVID-19 is 81 compared to 57 people a day Nov. 3-9, or a nearly 42% increase.

For now, Ezike urged Illinoisans to not watch the COVID-19 "movie" unfold but "write a script that gets us to the end of this pandemic sooner rather than later. We want to see less cases, less hospitalizations, less deaths. We can do that by wearing a mask and washing our hands."

She asked people to celebrate Thanksgiving with their immediate families and visit others online. "Let's not gamble with a virus that's already stolen from us nearly 11 million people in just eight months."

State labs processed 90,612 tests in the last 24 hours.

Pritzker has said there are no plans to resurrect a field hospital created this spring at McCormick Place and closed after minimal use. There's one potential overflow site at the former MetroSouth Hospital in Blue Island, he said.

Asked if the state would order all schools to return to remote learning, Pritzker said the government has no plans to intervene currently. "The school districts are doing the best they can," he said, noting about 60% of students are remote.

Amid the gloom, Pritzker pointed to announcements from Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. about successful vaccine results.

"We have real hope for possible widespread distribution by early spring," he said.

The state is well-stocked with ventilators, with about 91% open as medical experts have improved treatment for COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

There's fewer ICU beds, however, especially in the suburbs.

In Will and Kankakee counties (Region 7), 20% of ICU beds were available; in DuPage and Kane counties (Region 8), 35% of ICU beds were unoccupied; in Lake and McHenry (Region 9) and suburban Cook (Region 10), that number was 30%.

Ruth Colby, CEO of Silver Cross Hospital in Will County, noted the region's virus positivity rate is more than 18%, and more than 60 employees have contracted COVID-19 out in the community.

"Every time someone in the community does not wear a mask or observe other safety precautions, that creates the potential for a health care worker to develop COVID-19," Colby said.

Meanwhile, drivers seeking to renew licenses and vehicle registrations will need to postpone in-person visits to the secretary of state facilities as of Tuesday. Secretary of State Jesse White announced offices will close through Dec. 7 because of the spike in cases.

Driver's license and state ID card expiration dates will be extended through June 21, 2021.

Eighteen commercial driver's license facilities will stay open, including two in Elk Grove Village and West Chicago.

• Daily Herald staff writer Katlyn Smith contributed to this report.

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