Officials urge cautious optimism as Illinois’ hospital occupancy rates appear to have leveled in COVID-19 pandemic

Hospital occupancy rates have fluctuated in recent weeks, but the trend is giving some a bit of cautious optimism as Illinois works to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday said the state’s doubling rate of COVID-19 cases, or the number of days it takes for the state’s number of positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths to double has increased, and that’s a good thing.

“The fact that our doubling rate continues to increase in every metric is a clear demonstration that there is a deceleration of virus transmission,” Pritzker said. “We are in fact bending the curve.”

The governor’s office said the case doubling rate on March 22 was just over 2 days. By April 12, the administration said the rate increased to 8.17 days.

“Similarly, our mortality doubling rate has increased,” Pritzker said. “At the beginning of April it was at 2.5 days and it is now at 5.5 days.”

While the governor hasn’t provided hospitalization rates during his afternoon news briefings, daily numbers obtained by The Center Square over the course of more than two weeks from the Illinois Department of Public Health showed rates had leveled off.

On March 28, 59 percent of ICU beds in Illinois were occupied and 39 percent of ventilators were in use. That appears to have peaked April 10, with 71 percent of ICU beds occupied and 47.2 percent of ventilators in use. Monday’s numbers were down to 64.7 percent of ICU beds in use and 44.5 percent of ventilators in use.

Danny Chun, a spokesman for the Illinois Health and Hospital Association, said he was cautiously optimistic.

“But if things hold as they’ve been trending the last couple of days in the past week, we’re in an OK place, but we still have to remain vigilant, still have to continue with our preparations and be ready,” he said.

Chun said the trend should tell people that social distancing is working.

“Everyone needs to continue doing what they’ve been doing,” Chun said. “Stay at home, engage in social distancing, don’t gather in crowds, don’t have parties. We know it’s difficult. We know it’s tough, but we’ve got to keep doing it.”

In the past few weeks, the state has added more than 400 ICU beds and 806 ventilators. The overflow hospital at McCormick Place in Chicago built by the Army Corps of Engineers has not yet been used, Pritzker said.

“Right now we don’t have any need, but we’ve prepared it for the possibility of needing it,” Pritzker said Monday. “And as I’ve said before, I pray that we don’t need it.”

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