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Government, Politics & Issues

Metro East COVID Surge—Worst In Illinois—Is Taxing Hospitals’ ICU Bed Capacity

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic hosted by The East Side Health District. They have been holding vaccine clinics at the Clyde C. Jordan Senior Citizens Center in East St. Louis as well as other locations.
File Photo / Derik Holtmann
/
Belleville News-Democrat
A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic hosted by The East Side Health District. They have been holding vaccine clinics at the Clyde C. Jordan Senior Citizens Center in East St. Louis as well as other locations.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

New COVID-19 cases in the Metro East are quickly taking up space in intensive care units.

As of Wednesday, the number of available intensive care beds in southwest Illinois hospitals dipped to just 20% of total capacity, a level not seen since early February.

The region’s testing positivity rate of 9.1%, meanwhile, is the highest it’s been since Jan. 15. It’s also the highest new infection rate in the state, according to data tracked by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

New cases have been on a steady increase since early June when the rate stood at 1.5%. Hospital bed availability, at 38% on June 29, is down to 20% as of Wednesday.

The Metro East has now seen 24 consecutive days with an increased number of COVID-19 patients arriving at hospitals. On June 27, there were 15 patients with COVID-19 in area hospitals, as of Wednesday there were 56.

The Metro East and Illinois’ Region 2, which is located in the midwest portion of the state, have the second-highest number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized. Region 3, directly north of the metro-area, has the most with 59 patients hospitalized with the virus as of Wednesday.

Less than half of Metro East is fully vaccinated

Vaccinations in the Metro East, meanwhile, continue to lag behind the rest of the state, following a trend across the country that shows a correlation between lower vaccination rates and higher rates of new infections.

Currently, in the Metro East, 296,399 people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s roughly 44.8% of the 660,223 people who live here according to IDPH. IDPH reported on Wednesday that the state as a whole has vaccinated approximately 50.5% of all Illinoisans.

In Madison County, which is meeting several of IDPH’s “warning level” metrics, 43.5% of the 264,461 people who live there are fully vaccinated. In St. Clair County, 41.8% of the 261,059 people who live in the county are fully vaccinated.

Bond County, where 16,630 people live, has only vaccinated 5,779 residents, or roughly 34.7% of its population. Bond has the lowest percentage of its population vaccinated of all the Metro East counties.

Could restrictions be coming back?

Illinois is currently in Phase 5 of its reopening plan, which began on May 14 after 70% of residents 65 and older received their first COVID-19 dose and hospitalizations. COVID-19 illnesses and deaths did not significantly increase over a 28-day period.

However, though Illinois is in the “bridge” phase, the state could go back to Phase 4 as new cases spike and if at least one of the following happens over a 10-day period:

  • Hospital intensive care unit availability drops below 20%
  • Total hospitalizations or deaths increase significantly

As of now, the Metro East has surpassed both of those metrics.
Last Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker told Fox 32 Chicago that he hasn’t ruled out another shutdown due to the rise of COVID-19.

Pritzker said he is watching closely the counties that border Missouri, which currently has the highest growth of new COVID-19 infections in the country, something he said may be playing a part in the spread of COVID-19 in the Metro East.

“Missouri is … the worst state in the nation right now and it’s right on our border,” Pritzker told the news station. “And (COVID-19) is pouring over, unfortunately, across the border into Metro East and southern Illinois.”

However, two weeks ago the governor’s office told Capitol News Illinois there are “no plans” to reinstate mitigations measures.

“Currently there is no plan to implement any additional mitigations now that there is an abundance of vaccine available and accessible across Illinois. We encourage all Illinoisans ages 12+ to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” the office told Capitol News Illinois.

Kavahn Mansouri is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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