SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Hospital records, lab tests and emergency medical services data compiled by the Illinois Department of Public Health illustrate how rapidly the Coronavirus inundated Chicago and the surrounding suburbs while its spread was largely contained downstate.
According to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the daily hospitalization rate in the Northeast Region was nearly twenty times higher than the rate of Coronavirus-related hospitalizations anywhere else in the state.
- The North Central Region of Illinois reached a peak of 23 hospital admissions on May 1st, 2020.
- The Southern Illinois Region reached a peak of 17 hospitalizations on April 27th, 2020.
- Central Illinois hit a peak of 17 Coronavirus-related hospital admissions on April 3rd.
- Coronavirus-related hospitalizations skyrocketed in the state’s Northeast Region as hospitals in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs reported nearly 20 times more daily admissions than other regions of the state. The region reached an average daily peak of 444 hospitalizations on April 27th, 2020.
Despite Governor J.B. Pritzker’s acknowledgement on May 5th that the “reality on the ground looks different in different areas of our state,” and his promise that four regions “can move through phases at different times,” all four corners of Illinois are poised to escape the second-to-last stage of COVID-19 restrictions at the same time one week from Friday.
“I do think we’re doing this right,” Pritzker said on Monday at a press event in Belleville.
“We’re doing it gradually,” he said. “We are moving forward. We’re in ‘Phase 3’ now. It’s 11 days from now that it looks like all the regions seem to be moving in the right direction.”
During Phase 3 of Pritzker’s plan, public gatherings are limited to 10 people. Bars and restaurants were allowed to open for outdoor seating or curbside pickup and delivery. Churches have begun to reopen, albeit with modified seating arrangements. Retail shops and hair dressers have rearranged floor plans and limited indoor capacity.
“By June 26, we’ll have restaurants open and physical fitness gyms and so on open,” Pritzker said, and other things with restrictions, making sure that we’re keeping people safe and healthy along the way here.”
Pritzker has said he won’t allow concerts, festivals, sporting events and conventions to resume hosting large crowds until the development of a vaccine, treatment or herd immunity could protect against the Coronavirus, which means each region of the state will have progressed through to each phase simultaneously.
The population density and sheer volume of people living in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs could explain part of the disparity in overall hospitalizations, but other key medical metrics show how well downstate contained the Coronavirus compared to the Northeast Region.
Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike announced on May 5th that each region of the state would need to reach a positive testing rate at or below 20 percent in order to advance through the phased restrictions. That means no more than one out of every five people who get tested could come back positive for the region to satisfy the requirement to progress. Only one of the state’s four regions ever crossed above the 20 percent threshold.
- Southern Illinois nearly reached 16 percent of people testing positive on April 23rd.
- The North Central Region nearly hit 12 percent April 22nd.
- Central Illinois never hit double digits, peaking below 8 percent on April 2nd.
- Chicago and the surrounding suburbs remained above 20 percent more than half that time, peaking at 28 percent on April 14th, and didn’t dip below the 20 percent rate until May 11th.
The test results demonstrate a success on the part of the Pritzker administration in deploying COVID-19 test units downstate to equip county health departments to identify and track infected patients before the spread of the virus grew out of control. However, downstate Republicans grew increasingly frustrated that the Governor’s economic restrictions remained in place even as hospitals remained empty and an overwhelming majority of COVID-19 lab tests came back negative.
“He’s taken too long to come around to what’s reality, what’s on the ground,” state Representative Dan Caulkins (R-Decatur) said on Monday. “We should have been in Phase 4 two or three weeks ago based on even his recommendations.”
The first-term Republican runs a long-term care facility in DuPage County, where cases of the Coronavirus are far more widespread. However, Caulkins says no residents of his facility have tested positive.
“This whole thing was predicated on getting our healthcare systems in place,” Caulkins said. “It should have been predicated on protecting the people in long term care facilities.”
“All of us went along with the governor’s original executive order,” he said. “We all understood that this was a very serious illness and and was going to create havoc with our healthcare systems if we didn’t get it under control.”
Even as Chicagoland area hospitals saw the state’s largest surge in Coronavirus-related admissions, once the Governor issued his Stay-at-Home order, the medical facilities there remained above the 14 percent threshold of available ICU beds, medical and surgery beds and ventilators throughout the duration of the pandemic to date.
Downstate hospitals never came close to hitting the 14 percent low-water mark, staying comfortably above 30 percent availability for ventilators and bed space since late March.
The data set obtained under FOIA stopped tracking metrics at the end of May. In the two weeks since, Illinois has reported the fastest decrease in hospitalizations and new infections, showing we have come off the peak and stayed there. That new reality has only amplified calls from a weary public for the Governor to lift his remaining restrictions, but it has also given him ample evidence to argue his plan protected much of the state from the ravages of a deadly pandemic.
“You’ve seen in the other states, they moved very quickly, and now they see a spike, and now they have to move backward,” Pritzker said on Monday. “You can imagine how damaging that is to small businesses who get ready to open, they put more money into opening, they get open, and then they have to close again. I mean, that really will kill a business.
“I think the way we’re doing it, the gradual opening that we’re we’re following, is making a difference,” he said.
Editor’s note: a chart in this article has been updated to accurately reflect the availability rate of medical and surgical beds. A prior version listed the usage rate.