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With COVID-19 Cases At Worst Levels Yet, Some Hospitals Ban Visitors Altogether

CHICAGO (CBS) -- We're in the middle of the worst COVID-19 surge of the entire pandemic, and it comes as hospitals across the area are seeing staffing shortages and clamping down on visitors.

As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported Monday, some hospitals have stopped allowing any visitors at all.

NorthShore University Health System announced Monday that there will eb no visitors at its hospitals, with exceptions being considered on a case-by-case basis.

We are also hearing from several hospitals across our area about the massive surge in cases and demand on resources.

"More than 70 percent of our critical care patients are COVID-19 patients, with unfortunately, 30 percent of them requiring a ventilator," said Allan Spooner of the Franciscan Health South Suburban Chicago Division.

The Franciscan Health South Suburban Chicago Division said its COVID-19 patient population has exploded over the past three weeks — from about 10 percent of patients to about 42 percent.

Statewide, as of Sunday night, 4,755 people were hospitalized with COVID-19. That amounts to a 93 percent increase since the start of the month.

It is prompting hospital systems like NorthShore to ban most visitors, effective Monday.

Edward Elmhurst-Health said they plan to follow suit with similar restrictions on Tuesday. Rush already has a no visitor policy, with some exceptions.

Others such as Northwestern Medicine, the University of Chicago, and Loyola are allowing just one visitor per day.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said this is all for good reason.

"58 Right now we're absolutely seeing the highest surge in cases from across the entire pandemic for the last two years," Ezike said.

Illinois is also seeing a surge in testing — with long lines at clinics and at-home tests completely sold out at many stores.

And the current positivity rate will likely fluctuate due to delays in reporting because of the holidays.

On Monday, Gov. JB Pritzker announced community-based testing capacity will go from four days a week to six days a week. Tests are free and available to anyone.

But Dr. Ezike cautioned that testing isn't the solution to finally ending the pandemic.

"Testing is critical. But let's be clear - testing is not detection. Testing in itself is not protection. To get protected, you get vaccinated, you get boosted - and if you don't want to do it to protect yourself from hospitalization and death, can you do it to protect others?" Ezike said.

Dr. Ezike also cautioned users about the accuracy of COVID-19 tests.

"If you're symptomatic and you get a negative COVID test and you know, there's reason for you to think that you've been exposed to COVID - which essentially everybody has - then you want might want to confirm that either with another test or also getting a PCR test," Ezike said.

Go. Pritzker also said the half a billion at-home COVID tests being distributed by the federal government will not be enough. Pritzker said this is a complaint that has been made by a lot of governors, but he said the half a billion kits are a "start."

We're still waiting on details about how those test kits will be distributed — likely by ordering on a website starting early next month.

Gov. Pritzker said that instead of reopening the mass vaccination sites like the United Center for booster shots, the state is focusing on increasing capacity at many smaller community-based sites across the state.

For more on the expanding days and times for the community-based testing centers, follow this link.

Also Monday, DuPage County had its first confirmed Omicron COVID-19 cases. A total of 16 people came down with the variant, with the earliest confirmed case having happened on Dec. 8.

No one among the 16 has been hospitalized or died.

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