Almost half of patients hospitalized at McHenry County’s Northwestern Medicine hospitals have COVID-19

The hospital system is asking those with mild symptoms of the virus to treat themselves at home or a doctor’s office

As many as half of the patients hospitalized in Northwestern Medicine’s over-capacity McHenry County hospitals have COVID-19, hospital officials said.

Now, Northwestern Medicine is asking that those with mild or no symptoms after a positive test for COVID-19, or those who just want a test, not go to the hospital.

Similar to hospital systems around the country, Northwestern Medicine hospitals in Huntley, McHenry and Woodstock are seeing high patient volumes, pushing the hospitals over capacity. In response, the hospital system is asking people to refrain from visiting the hospital for treatment if they can treat themselves at home or a doctor’s office.

“Hospitals are exceeding capacities in our region, both on the inpatient side and the emergency departments, so if you feel you don’t have an emergency and just want a diagnosis, proceed to one of the testing facilities [or] talk to your doctor for recommendations on where you can be tested,” said Daniel Campagna, director of emergency medicine at Northwestern Medicine’s McHenry County hospitals. “Don’t just go to the emergency department.”

As of Friday morning, Northwestern Medicine McHenry County hospitals are operating at 120% to 130% capacity, meaning they are caring for more patients than they have the capacity for, Campagna said. Of those in the hospital, about half are there with COVID-19.

“That is significantly causing crowding in the emergency departments because we have admitted patients holding in the emergency departments waiting for beds,” he said. “It is a significant problem trying to get patients through the system.

“We’re currently seeing the highest percentage of admitted patients in the hospital and with a COVID-19 diagnosis.”

Many people who have symptoms of COVID-19 should assume they have the virus and should isolate at home, Campagna said. However, if symptoms worsen and breathing becomes difficult, people should go to the hospital.

“If you’re feeling short of breath and feeling you can’t do your activities of daily living without having to stop because you’re short of breath, then that’s the time you should come to the hospital,” Campagna said.

People with COVID-19 also should monitor their oxygen levels at home, Campagna said. This can be done with a portable pulse machine, which can be found at pharmacies or online. If oxygen levels drop below 92%, then someone with COVID-19 should seek treatment.

Campagna said the hospitals are seeing more mild cases of the virus, which is helping them discharge patients faster.

Earlier this week, officials with Advocate Aurora said they are seeing the highest number of COVID-19 patients in their hospital system, which includes 26 hospitals across the Chicago area and Wisconsin. The number has doubled in the past month, Advocate Aurora chief nursing officer Mary Beth Kingston said.

The rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations at Advocate caused the hospital system to pause elective procedures and visitors.

Even though the hospitals are over capacity, no one will be denied treatment in the emergency room, Campagna said.

Although so many people in the hospital are there with COVID-19, Campagna said, other patients in the hospital are not more likely to get the virus from their doctors or nurses.

“Our staff is screened daily for COVID-19, and if you have any symptoms or if there’s any question of whether or not our staff has the disease, we are being ordered to stay home,” he said. “Staff is not working with COVID-19.”

However, Campagna said, for those who wait in the waiting room, it’s likely they are in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, so it’s important people wear their masks in the emergency room.

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