Hospitalizations drop, but 'the first wave isn't over,' vigilant medical officials say

  • Sample instructors at the DuPage County COVID-19 testing site in Wheaton wait to gather information before the people in cars are tested earlier this week.

    Sample instructors at the DuPage County COVID-19 testing site in Wheaton wait to gather information before the people in cars are tested earlier this week. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Updated 6/18/2020 7:06 PM

Only 5.3% of hospital beds in Illinois are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients, the lowest level since the outbreak began.

However, without a vaccine or widely available treatment to combat infection from the virus, hospital officials aren't letting their collective guard down. There are still 1,878 people being treated in hospitals throughout the state for the disease, 538 of them in intensive care, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.


On Thursday, the state health department announced 593 more infections and 55 more deaths.

"People have to understand we're not out of the woods. The first wave isn't over," said Danny Chun, spokesman for the Illinois Hospital Association. "Social distancing, wearing masks and not gathering in crowds is more important than ever. Illinois has done a great job of flattening the curve, but people cannot relax. If people aren't careful as they go out, there are going to be surges."

Hospital administrators aren't taking the decreased workload for granted.

"We continue to look at testing and expanding that, taking inventory of our supplies and making sure we're adequately stocked and also we're examining our overall response and how we transitioned and retrofitted areas of the hospital and how we'll deal with that if we get a bigger surge," said Dr. Sanjeeb Khatua, chief physician executive and COVID-19 incident commander at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

The high-water mark came on April 28, when 5,036 people were hospitalized in Illinois with COVID-19 symptoms.

The hospitalization rate is declining as the state's infection rate also continues to decline. The seven-day rolling average for the state's infection rate is now 2.6%, which means only 2.6% of the people who were tested each day during the past week were positive for the virus.

The state's death toll from the virus is 6,537, while 134,778 residents have tested positive for the disease since the outbreak began.

In Chicago and the suburbs, the state health department is reporting the region's positivity rate is 6%, which means of all the tests taken, that's how many are positive for the virus on average each day over the past week.

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Hospitals in the city and suburbs say they have an ample supply of beds and ventilators to treat the sick. The state is reporting 34% of traditional hospital beds are available in case of a surge in cases, while 42% of the intensive care unit beds are also open. More than 70% of the region's ventilators are also available, IDPH reported.

The state is on track to move to a less restrictive phase of its reopening plan in a week.

Critics, including several Republican state legislators, have complained the governor was too cautious reopening the state's economy and hurt businesses. They also say Pritzker infringed on residents' constitutional right to assemble by imposing limits on the size of gatherings, now 10 or fewer people.

The Illinois GOP and several local Republican organizations filed a federal lawsuit against the governor earlier this week challenging the restrictions.

Hospital administrators and health care officials largely have agreed with how the state has handled the outbreak.

"Overall, the state has done a very good job, making tough, and at times, controversial decisions and taking necessary actions," Chun said. "The state is on the right track in its response."

Hospital administrators are ironing out details on how to tackle a potential second wave of cases that could come as the state allows for the reopening of more businesses and loosens restrictions on gatherings.

"As there is more travel and more interactions, I'm assuming we're going to have more people coming in with COVID," Khatua said. "We are still preparing for the worst and hoping for the best."

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