McCormick Place’s first 500 beds are ready as Illinois expands hospital capacity

Illinois announces 1,209 new COVID-19 cases, 53 new deaths

A health information sign on the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak is seen outside of a Walgreens in Wheeling, Ill., Thursday, April 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
A health information sign on the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak is seen outside of a Walgreens in Wheeling, Ill., Thursday, April 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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State officials introduced the new 500-bed alternate care facility at McCormick Place on Friday in Chicago, a space that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot called “the largest planned alternate care facility in the country.”

The facility is the first of now five planned facilities throughout the state. McCormick Place will house 3,000 hospital beds by the end of April. The first 500 beds are ready just as the Illinois Department of Public Health announced 1,209 new cases of COVID-19 throughout the state and 53 additional deaths, both single-day highs.

“Five short days ago, this was an empty convention hall,” said Gov. JB Pritzker, speaking from McCormick Place on Friday. “There was truly nothing here. … I’m genuinely blown away by what’s happened here.”

Three other previously announced facilities include Advocate Sherman in Elgin, MetroSouth Health Center in Blue Island and Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park. Pritzker announced a fourth location at Vibra Hospital in Springfield, which closed in January 2019.

The Illinois National Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are working together to get all five locations running. The McCormick Place facility will be run by Dr. Nick Turkal, formerly the CEO of Advocate Aurora Health.

These alternate care facilities will coordinate with existing hospitals and will not serve as emergency rooms, Turkal said. People should not show up at the front door expecting to receive medical care.

Patients with COVID-19 who are less severely ill but still need hospital care will be identified by existing hospitals and sent to the alternate locations.

“It’s a time to be prepared, and that’s what we’re doing here at McCormick Place,” Turkal said. “We all fervently hope that we will never need to take care of a patient here, and that would be wonderful, but I think it’s very unlikely. We expect to see patients here, and we are going to be prepared to do so.”

Pritzker said McCormick Place has 140 health care workers ready to run the facility now. Turkal said DuPage Medical Group is bringing a number of its staff to serve in leadership positions and as doctors and nurses. There also have been discussions with local university medical centers and even out-of-state health care providers with regards to finding additional staff. The state continues to call for retired and former health care workers to consider returning to the field.

Addressing the statewide availability of hospital beds, Pritzker said Illinois now has pushed its capacity to 28,000 non-ICU beds (up from about 26,000), of which 11,500 currently are available.

“That’s a lot fewer than is normal for this time of year,” Pritzker said of the available beds. “Even more striking, of the approximate 2,680 ICU beds in the state, just slightly over 800 are available. That’s just 29%. That availability is diminishing as COVID-19’s presence continues to grow.”

Pritzker said state models still indicate the virus might peak in Illinois in mid- to late-April.

Lightfoot announced Chicago has made agreements with the LondonHouse hotel and the Godfrey Hotel to make more than 400 hotel rooms available to health care workers who are worried about exposing family members to the virus at home.

According to IDPH data released Friday, 33 more people in Cook County and 11 in Lake County have died. Additional deaths include a man in his 50s and a woman in her 70s in DuPage County, a woman in her 90s in Kane County, a man and woman in their 80s and a man in his 90s in Will County.

Illinois now has seen 8,904 total positive cases and 210 deaths, as of Friday.

The state has tested 48,048 people. Chicago has 3,815 confirmed cases of COVID-19, while the rest of Cook county has 2,296 cases.

Lake County has 608, DuPage 500, Will 456, Kane 176, McHenry 102, Kendall 37, DeKalb 19, Whiteside nine, Grundy seven, La Salle six, Carroll and Ogle four, and Bureau and Lee two.

DeWitt, Effingham and Jersey counties all reported their first case. The virus has spread to 64 of Illinois’ 102 counties.

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