Top state doctor Ngozi Ezike of the Illinois Department of Public Health says COVID-19 hospitalizations are “rising at an alarming rate” in northern Illinois’ Region 1, a geographical area which includes DeKalb County and Sauk Valley.
“We are seeing COVID admission rates at a severely alarming rate,” Ezike said during a news conference held Friday morning with officials from the Rockford area. “Hospital bed availability has reached critically low levels, demand on resources is high and wait times in local emergency rooms are very long.”
As of Thursday, 8% of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds are available in Region 1, according to state data. The seven-day rolling positivity rate for Region 1, which runs north to Rockford and west to the Iowa border, is 9.2%. The DeKalb County positivity rate is at 6.6%. Positivity rates are reported with a three-day data lag. Region 1 also reported a seven-day average of 264 COVID-19 patients hospitalized.
Ezike said it’s imperative that beds remain free for both COVID-19 patients and others. Surges continue to take a toll on both overwhelmed hospital staff and availability for staff to treat patients within reasonable time. The IDPH director said people experiencing non-emergency healthcare needs should instead go to clinics or primary care providers, to free up needed space in emergency rooms.
She said the continued course of action remains to prioritize vaccinations, the best way to stop continued spread and limit severe cases of viral infection that require hospitalization.
“Our key message here continues to be get the vaccine,” Ezike said. “And if vaccinated and eligible, get the booster. However, we are also urging the public to use primary care providers, walk-in clinics and urgent care facilities for non-emergency needs so emergency department beds remain available.”
When asked whether the state is prepared to impose additional mitigations on the region to address continued viral spread, Ezike said the IDPH had hoped that the vaccine, now available in the state for an entire year as of Wednesday, would have helped.
“We have been through that period of stay-at-home, closed facilities,” Ezike said. “We were hoping in the advent of vaccines...to be in a completely different place. There are no plans at this time to institute additional measures. But we continue to have an indoor mask mandate as a simple, effective measure that can help slow transmission.”
Ezike said the state is continuing to send healthcare resources to overwhelmed hospitals, but there’s no plan in place currently to receive additional federal aid.
“Yes there is a significant need for resources,” Ezike said. “The state have been providing some surge staffing, mostly nurses, placing them in hospitals with the greatest need.”
She said that plan was originally supposed to stop at the end of the year, but will remain in place into 2022 because of continued need.
Officials from the northernmost part of Region 1, including Boone and Winnebago counties, were also on hand to urge people to get vaccinated, and talk about the economic impact another COVID-19 surge has on the area.
“This holiday season, if you’re traveling or hosting visitors, please get vaccinated right away,” said John Groh of Rockford Convention & Visitors’ Bureau. He said people should get tested before they travel, too.
Boone County reports a seven-day rolling average positivity rate of 10.8%, Carroll County reports 12.9%, Jo Daviess County reports 8.7%, Lee County reports 8.3%, Ogle County reports 2.6%, Stephenson County reports 9.8%, Whiteside County reports 6.3% and Winnebago County reports 9.6%, according to the most recent available data reported Thursday.