With the number of COVID-19 infections rapidly increasing, the fear is that sick patients will overwhelm the nation’s health care system.
That is a worst case scenario, one that the federal government and health care experts are trying to avoid with the drastic shutdown of regular routines.
“We don’t want to see a situation where we have more people who need care than beds available and we have to decide who gets care and who doesn’t,” Illinois Dept of Public Health’s Dr Ngozi Ezike said.
But if it does, how much can Illinois’ hospitals handle?
Illinois health officials tell WGN Investigates that as of Wednesday morning: 825 of the state’s 1,764 intensive care unit beds are available but only 374 of the 1,467 ventilators in Illinois are currently unused.
State health officials are concerned about a shortage. They have told people who think they may have the virus but who have no other underlying condition or complication that they should simply stay home and recover.
“We need to keep hospital beds for critically ill people and not for people who would have gotten well on their own at home,” Ezike said.
The Harvard Global Health Institute has been looking at the issue.
It found Chicago would need to expand capacity in what it termed a moderate scenario, or one where 40 percent of adults here caught the virus.
A hospital's Intensive Care Unit is best equipped to handle the most serious COVID-19 cases.
In Chicago, there are more than 900 ICU beds. And experts said hospitals can add more through construction, but that takes time.
The quicker way to free-up bed space is to delay elective surgeries, which is what the President Trump’s coronavirus taskforce is now recommending.
“It really is both flattening the curve so that don't have as many cases and also making sure that we have extra capacity locally and on a state level and on a federal level,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said.
Experts also are concerned about a lack of ventilators, machines that help people breathe.
Illinois has 1,467 ventilators statewide. There’s also a national emergency supply but experts fear it’s not adequate.
“We have a specific number of ventilators in the stockpile,” Vice President Mike Pence said. “It’s in excess of 10,000 and you just heard the announcement from the Department of Defense that they’ll be adding several more thousand to that.”
Doctors WGN Investigates spoke with said they are especially concerned about smaller suburban and rural hospitals being overwhelmed. Some may only have a dozen intensive care rooms and if there’s a virus outbreak at a local nursing home, they may be ill-equipped to handle the influx of patients.