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New Wave Of COVID-19 In Illinois Has Doctors On Notice, But They Emphasize How Much More Is Known About Virus

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said over the past week, Illinois has the second highest COVID-19 case count in the U.S.

This new wave of the virus has local doctors paying close attention. CBS 2's Steven Graves on Sunday asked how hospitals were preparing.

Doctors around Chicago are quick to point out that their understanding of COVID-19 is much better now than it was two months ago.

"How do you take care of patients with COVID? How do you respond?" said Dr. Bala Hota, who studies COVID-19 data at Rush University Medical Center.

"We're definitely more prepared, but it's unclear how big this wave will be," said Dr. Nishant Agarwal, a surgeon at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

This week, COVID-19 cases hit more than 400,000. CDC data shows Illinois was the second highest contributor after Texas.

While that is shocking, doctors said it does not tell the whole story.

"When you look at the cases per 100,000, we are much lower," Hota said. "We're about in the middle of the country."

But that does not mean there is an excuse to relax. Physicians said while right now, hospitalizations are only slightly up, the next two to four weeks are crucial.

"Hospitalizations do lag compared to increases in testing rates, so we may start seeing an increase in hospitalizations," Hota said.

But much has changed at hospitals – from managing patients to the screening process and testing.

Dr. Agarwal, a surgeon, is on a team developing a saliva test. He said the better the testing methods, the safer hospitals are to stay up and running.

"[Protocols] were put in place the surge in spring to just sort of keep the patients, their families, and the health care staff safe," he said.

Another change is that the therapeutic remdesivir now has full Food and Drug Administration approval. That means hospitals have more access to use it on some of the most critical patients.

"I mean, there has been ample supply," Hota said.

Doctors said social distancing, hand washing, and masking up are still the best ways to stop the spread. They expressed hope that the holiday season does not take things in the wrong direction.

"We're hopeful that the trends reverse," Hota said, "but if things start to change, we're ready."

Rush has teams involved in clinical trials to develop a vaccine. The staff projects it will be tested and available early next year.

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