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With COVID-19 Hospitalizations Already Surging, Doctors 'Very Worried' About What Happens After Thanksgiving

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has now authorized emergency use of an antibody cocktail treatment produced by Regeneron to help the immune system fight COVID-19.

The FDA said it's okay to give it to some high-risk patients with coronavirus symptoms. It's the same experimental therapy President Trump took when he got the virus in October.

Regeneron says it will have doses for 80,000 patients this month, and a half million by the end of January.

Drugs like this can't come fast enough for hospitals. Illinois' rising numbers on patients with COVID-19 make that clear.

CBS 2's Jeremy Ross spoke to someone very high up in healthcare, who's got a crisis on his hands.

Dr. Ernest Wang, chief of emergency medicine at NorthShore University HealthSystem, said he expects things to get worse before they get better, calling the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday potentially a super-spreader event for the virus, when Illinois is already seeing alarming virus levels.

"I would say we are actually in crisis mode," Wang said.

Wang oversees five hospitals, including in Evanston and Highland Park. He said the COVID trends he's seeing in emergency rooms are filling up too many hospital beds.

"The numbers we have now are much higher than the numbers we had back in the spring, and with the numbers, as they're climbing, the cases we can only expect for the near term that these are going to continue to go up,"  he said. "I'm very worried. The whole health system is worried. Patients are coming in more frequent and sicker, and it's not slowing down. So we just have to continue to try and manage the patients. We have not enough staff sometimes to staff the beds we have."

Wang said NorthShore hospitals are not turning away patients who come in for other emergency care -- like car crashes or heart troubles -- but COVID-19 is stressing their staffing to the breaking point.

The state of Illinois reported more than 6,100 coronavirus patients in hospitals with COVID-19 as of Friday night, more than double only three weeks ago.

Over the past two weeks, there's been a 62% increase of the sickest patients with the virus on ventilators.

Wang said the bulk of his patients aren't in that most critical group yet, but "the number of people requiring oxygen is astounding, and that group, which is not quite ICU, but certainly not well enough to send home, is a big proportion of the patients we are seeing."

When those patients are hospitalized, the antibody cocktail produced by Regeneron could be an option.

Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, credited his recent COVID-19 recovery to the drug, posting on social media he was convinced it saved his life.

That's also the same treatment President Trump received following his COVID diagnosis in October.

Wang said treatments like that are helping healthcare during the second surge, and there is more help on the way in the forms of two vaccines that could get FDA emergency approval before the end of the year.

"There is hope around the corner. The vaccine data news is great, and I think if we can just hold out till the spring, we'll be in a much better place," Wang said.

But it's going to be months before most of us can get a vaccine, as priority likely will be given first to healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

Wang's advice in the meantime is to wear a mask around others. It's the best way to avoid the virus. It can protect your health and keep pressure off healthcare workers during this new surge.

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