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Surging Chicago COVID Numbers Have Doctors Concerned About Available ICU Beds, Staff Shortages

CHICAGO (CBS) --At its peak, Illinois had 4,800 people hospitalized with COVID-19.

As of Monday night, it was just 58 patients away from that number. CBS 2's Chris Tye reports on what could await area hospitals as more people are diagnosed and hospitalized with COVID-19.

In Chicago, cases have tripled in the last month. While the death count is lower than the spring, the fall surge is bringing with it new concerns.

Inside Rush, there is a patient surge.

"My husband is an emergency room physician too. We are seeing waiting room numbers and volumes that we never seen before and we've both been attending for 10-plus years," said Doctor Meeta P. Shah of Rush University Medical Center.

More than 80% of ICU beds are in use at the Rush Main Campus, and that's before a single flu case has walked through the door. Around the region, it's a similar story.

"ICU capacity is, in a lot of ways, our biggest concern," said Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

In Chicago 73% of ICU beds are filled, similar numbers in Cook, Will and Kankakee counties. It's slightly lower in McHenry, Lake, Kane and DuPage counties. It's not a shortage of the actual beds that's keeping experts up at night.

"I am concerned, but not as concerned about beds, but I am very concerned about staffing," Arwady said.

In the spring when Chicago was spiking and Florida wasn't, medical staff could fly in to assist hot spots. Now with the whole country nearing an inflection point, and winter illnesses on top of it, there's a more concerning landscape.

"If we are inundated with COVID, what are we going to do with all the other ailments that we see," asked Shah.

Last spring Rush converted its welcome area into an overflow ER for non-COVID patients. And it's happening again. In April, many patients scared to come to the hospital went without preventative care for heart and cancer treatments. As doctors learn how to better treat COVID, they hope patients learn to not skip out on that preventative care.

"Now, we are getting the hang of it," said Shah "But if the numbers keep rising, it becomes a bandwidth issue," Shah said.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said there are no plans to re-open McCormick Place as an emergency care facility, but if the state had to, it could.


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