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CHICAGO — The highly contagious Omicron variant is infecting record numbers of people, sending many of those who are unvaccinated to the hospital.

The state’s top doctor says it’s too soon to tell if Illinois is at the peak of the Omicron wave. But, as of Wednesday, 7,100 people across the state remain hospitalized with the virus, a record number.

“We have never had this many Covid patients in the hospital,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “Unfortunately, right now, today, the hospitals are bearing the brunt. Nine percent of hospital ICU beds are available in Illinois right now.”

That means less than 10% of intensive care beds are open for anyone with any serious health problem, such as a heart attack, stroke, burst appendix, or car accident.   

Gov. JB Pritzker announced his plan to ensure the state’s health care system doesn’t collapse under the burden of Covid.

“But as difficult as this moment is, there will be an end to it,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker seeks to ease fears by outlining the state’s response, which includes extra “hospital help” in the form of more than 2,000 health care workers deployed across Illinois. Additionally, more than 900 will be supporting hospitals statewide hit hardest by Covid – and more than 550 will arrive by next Friday.   

“With unprecedented numbers of patients being hospitalized, the care workers and institutions operating for all who need assistance,” Pritzker said. “It’s the most transmissible variant yet seen, and it has the potential to overwhelm health care across the nation. This current wave of COVID is causing more people to get sick than ever before in the pandemic.”

Dr. Ezike says 80% of those hospitalized are unvaccinated. Someone who is not vaccinated is 11 times more likely to be hospitalized with Covid than someone who is vaccinated and boosted, she said. Dr. Ezike ended with a plea for the unvaccinated to get their shots as soon as possible, so there’s no more unnecessary strain on the health care system.   

“We need to get vaccinated. We need to turn vaccines into vaccinations. We need to get boosted. We need to continue masking. Continue testing. We should come together and do what’s right for our greater good,” Ezike said.

According to state public health statistics, one other important note: less than one-tenth of 1% of vaccinated people have been hospitalized.  

So doctors say while a vaccine might not prevent infection, it almost always keeps you from getting seriously sick.