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Illinois Sets New COVID-19 Hospitalization Record; 'Our Hospitals Are Still Completely Overwhelmed'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- As COVID-19 cases continue to surge throughout Illinois, the state has set a new record for hospitalizations from the virus.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, as of Sunday night, 6,294 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide, a 144% increase from one month ago. The previous record for COVID-19 hospitalizations was 6,175, set on Nov. 20, 2020, during the second wave of the pandemic.

"Our hospitals are still completely overwhelmed," Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Monday afternoon.

As of Monday, an average of 550 people were being admitted to Illinois hospitals each day with COVID; and 90% of them are not vaccinated, according to Ezike.

Ezike also warned that, while the new Omicron variant of the virus might not cause as severe illness as previous strains, that doesn't mean there are fewer people being hospitalized than during earlier stages of the pandemic, because "there are just so many more people with COVID, period.

As of Sunday night, only 21% of the state's hospital beds were open, including only 11% of the state's ICU beds, according to IDPH.

Gov. JB Pritzker said, in some regions of the state, ICU beds "are frighteningly limited," with only single-digit numbers available in some parts of Illinois.

"It is frustrating and tragic that, two years into the pandemic, with multiple widely available and free life-saving vaccines, that we are once again in this horrible position," Pritzker said Monday afternoon.

Last week, the governor urged hospitals to postpone non-emergency surgeries to use existing staff to expand ICU capacity.

The state also set a new daily COVID-19 case record on Friday, with 31,461 new confirmed and probable cases. Illinois is now averaging a record 23,069 new cases per day over the past week, up 279% from one month ago.

The state's average case positivity rate is up to 12.8%, the highest it's been since Nov. 14, 2020. During the fall surge in 2020, that rate reached as high as 13.2%, and surpassed 20% during the first wave of the pandemic.

"With the holidays still only a week or two in the rear-view mirror, I fear the climb will continue as the virus incubates in those who were exposed at the end of December," Pritzker said.

The governor said he is particularly concerned about the virus spreading among children under age 5, who are not eligible to be vaccinated.

Pritzker said, in pediatric wards, the number of Illinois children hospitalized with COVID has nearly tripled since beginning of October.

The governor urged people to get their vaccine and booster shots, wear masks in public, and stay home if they're sick, to slow the spread of the virus, and avoid overwhelming hospitals and their overworked staffs.

"They are under tremendous strain, and I don't know how much more they can withstand. We must all find ways to support them in every way possible," he said. "All Illinoisans need to focus on keeping each other safe. Where we go next as a state is a matter of each of us pitching in. Each of us can get vaccinated, get boosted, and wear our mask when in spaces with other people, and I ask everyone to do their part."

Ezike said, while more than 8 million people in Illinois have received at least one dose of the vaccine, more than 4 million Illinoisans remain unvaccinated.

"People are not taking advantage of something that could save their lives, and they're also not helping prevent the potential death of someone whom they may unknowingly spread it to," she said. "I know you might say you're healthy, and you'll be okay if you get COVID, but the person right next to you might not be as fortunate."

As of Monday, 68% of the population age 5 and up is fully vaccinated, including 72.8% of those age 12 and up, 74.2% of those age 18 and up, and 86.6% of those age 65 and up. Meantime, 76.6% of all Illinoisans age 5 and up have received at least one dose of the vaccine, including 81.1% of those age 12 and up, 82.7% of those age 18 and up, and 95% of those age 65 and up.

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