Submitted by Mayor Stephen Hagerty
As we enter what epidemiologists believe will be the peak month for the COVID-19 pandemic in Illinois, I wanted to share answers to a few questions residents have posed to me recently. These responses have been reviewed and affirmed by the Presidents of both Evanston hospitals – AMITA Health St. Francis and NorthShore University HealthSystem (Evanston Hospital) – and our Public Health Director, Ike Ogbo.
Do our hospitals have enough capacity to care for the sick?
Currently, both hospitals in Evanston have capacity, meaning available beds, including those in their Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
But do they have capacity to meet the peak that is coming this month?
Each hospital is part of a system comprised of multiple hospitals. Within each system, they have a contingency plan to meet increased demand. These contingency plans are reviewed by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). To execute on their respective contingency plans, each hospital leaned forward and cancelled all elective surgeries and procedures, freeing up additional hospital beds and physicians and staff to care for patients with COVID-19, if needed.
Who’s keeping track of available hospital beds in Illinois?
There are 211 hospitals in the State of Illinois. Currently, they are reporting their capacity two times a day to the Illinois Department of Public Health. IDPH is aggregating that information and working with the Governor’s Office and IL Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) to determine whether temporary Alternative Care Facilities need to be established and, if so, where.
Will Alternative Care Facilities be needed in Illinois?
Yes. According to a new study by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Illinois will currently run out of ICU beds by April 6 and the shortage will last three weeks, peaking at more than 500 unavailable beds. These shortages will vary by hospital and region. IDPH and local hospitals are working together to expand ICU capacity within existing hospitals.
Where will the Alternative Care Facilities be located and who will be sent to these facilities?
IEMA, in conjunction with IDPH and the Governor’s Office, select the locations for temporary Alternative Care Facilities. So far, three sites have been selected in the Chicagoland region – McCormick Place (3,000 beds), Metro South Center (500 beds) in Blue Island, and Sherman Hospital (230 beds) in Elgin. A fourth site is expected to be announced in the coming days, bringing the total number of additional Alternative Care Facility beds to over 4,000. The intent of these sites is to handle patients with low to mild acuity, freeing up our hospitals to serve those with more severe cases of COVID-19.
Why haven’t we set up an Alternative Care Facility in Evanston?
Due to the COVID-19 projections and current capacity in the Evanston area, the State has not yet identified Evanston as an area in need of an Alternative Care Facility. However, City staff and community partners are in regular communication with our state counterparts and are leaning forward should that change.
But what if I get COVID-19 and need hospitalization?
Based on your condition, your medical provider will determine where to hospitalize you. The State has indicated that patients will initially go to an established hospital prior to any reassignment to an Alternative Care Facility.
Enough about hospitals. What percent of people in Evanston have tested positive for COVID-19?
As of today, 103 residents of Evanston have confirmed cases of COVID-19. Presumably, more people have it in the community – hence the reason we must all practice strict social distancing – but we don’t know exactly how many people in Evanston might be carrying the virus. Currently, we do not have exact data for how many Evanstonians have been tested.
But that information must exist, why can’t we know it?
You’re right, the information does exist. However, IDPH, which gets that information from all the hospitals and testing sites, is not providing this information to the local health departments at this time, due to other higher priorities. Additionally, even if they could, it might present us with a false sense of security at this early stage if it’s declining.
What can I do to support our frontline health care workers?
Be all in for Illinois. Stay home! Only leave when it’s essential! And never congregate in a group outside of your immediate family unit. Our health care workers, first responders, essential workers and congregate home workers are showing great courage every day. We need everyone else to do their part and comply with the Governor’s Stay-at-Home Order and practice strict social distancing. Your actions can help keep everyone safe.
As always, I value deeply the contribution each of you are making to slow the spread and save lives. I want us all to look back on our lives many years from now profoundly satisfied that we did all we could to flatten the curve so more wonderful people in our community and country can live to enjoy it.