As hospitals reel with omicron and staff shortages, state promises aid

The convergence of record-smashing numbers of patients stricken with the highly infectious omicron strain of COVID-19 and a critical shortage of workers is pushing Illinois hospitals to their limits, officials said Wednesday.

Like other health systems across the U.S., "on any given day, we have several hundred of our team members who are out with COVID-19 - our team members are not immune to it," Advocate Aurora Health's Dr. Robert Citronberg, executive medical director of infectious disease and prevention, explained at a media update.

Hospitalizations totaled 7,219 as of Tuesday night.

"We've never had this many COVID patients in the hospital at any point in the pandemic," IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike said at a briefing. "The vast majority, 80%, are unvaccinated."

Along with hundreds of health care employees at home with COVID-19 infections, many have quit "because of exhaustion and stress and trauma they've endured" during the pandemic, Ezike said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said 2,048 contract health care workers will be dispatched across Illinois to bolster depleted hospitals. So far, 919 people are currently deployed, and 552 more will start Friday. The state has existing contracts with staffing firms, and a majority of hospitals will be paying for the temps.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency also activated medical teams to assist hospitals in crisis, with 237 individuals in the field now and 340 more on the way, Pritkzer said, noting some FEMA workers are in the Rockford area. The city had only two ICU beds available Monday, the Rockford Register Star reported.

At an event Wednesday organized by SEIU Healthcare Illinois, Loretto Hospital lead emergency room technician Wellington Thomas described caring for "patients in the hallways ... because we just don't have rooms for them. I almost decided to change careers, it's that stressful." The union is seeking hazard pay for hospital workers.

New cases of COVID-19 spiked to 34,573 Wednesday, the third-highest tally since the pandemic began, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported.

The state also recorded 144 more deaths, a significant increase compared to the January daily average of 74.

On Tuesday, 56,796 more COVID-19 shots were administered. The seven-day average is 51,745.

The state's positivity rate for COVID-19 cases Wednesday was 12%, the same as Tuesday, and is based on a seven-day average.

So far, 8,222,470 people - or 64.9% of Illinois' 12.7 million population - have been fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The CDC defines fully vaccinated as having two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of Johnson & Johnson's shot.

Of those people who are fully vaccinated, 42.2% have received a booster shot.

The federal government has delivered 22,423,735 doses of vaccine to Illinois since distribution began in mid-December, and 19,779,403 shots have been administered.

Total cases statewide stand at 2,522,953, and 28,804 Illinoisans have died since the pandemic began.

Labs processed 237,157 virus tests in the last 24 hours.

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