SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Mobile strike teams of medical professionals are being dispatched to parts of Illinois most in need of assistance battling COVID-19 that has sickened record numbers and stretched health care resources thin, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday.
But Pritzker and his public health director Dr. Ngozi Ezike continued to pound the drum that vaccinations, booster shots and masks are the best way to prevent the spread of the disease that has landed an unprecedented 7,100 people in hospitals across the state.
“The vast, vast majority — 80% — are unvaccinated,” Ezike said at a briefing in Chicago. “For Illinois, if someone is not vaccinated, they are 11 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID than someone who actually is vaccinated and boosted.
“Imagine yourself as one of the nurses or the doctors that’s going into the umpteenth patient room to treat a person for something that was preventable.”
Ezike said that among 7.7 million Illinois residents who have been fully vaccinated, of those who suffered breakthrough COVID-19 cases, just 0.08% have been hospitalized — less than one-tenth of 1%.
In the week that ended last Friday, Illinois averaged 28,775 new cases each day, close to double the daily number during the last pre-vaccine surge in fall 2020. The state has experienced the deaths of 28,361 residents among 2.38 million confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases.
Jan. 24 marks the second anniversary of Illinois’ first reported coronavirus case.
Despite the burden on hospitals, officials in Illinois have learned during the two-year saga that hospitals have sufficient physical space for the influx of sick people but not enough health care professionals to care for them.
“We have beds, like the physical bed and a room. But if you don’t have any staff, that’s a useless location,” Pritzker said. “And so those strike teams are designed, when there is an acute need in some area, to literally take some of those staff and send them on a temporary basis to open up those beds to make sure that everybody can get help.”
The extra hands come from a state contract with Favorite Medical Services, a company founded in Seattle in 1981 that provides health professionals on demand. The amount of the contract was not immediately available Wednesday.
There are 919 of these workers now at hospitals hard hit by COVID-19 with 552 scheduled to arrive at needy sites by Friday, Pritzker said. Additionally, there are at hand what Pritzker called COVID reaction teams to quickly respond to emerging crises, with 237 reaction-team members in the field now and 340 arriving in the next 10 days.
Other personnel are available for medical facilities applying for federal assistance.
“State government has had to be innovative and agile, to find creative solutions to maintain healthcare capacity during this unprecedented crisis, delivering assistance, waivers and guidance to our healthcare institutions as they pursue creative and safe solutions to build capacity for patient care,” Pritzker said.
Among other examples is a waiver from state licensing requirements which allow out-of-state medical professional to continue working in Illinois during the pandemic and also to treat patients who are hospitalized with illnesses other than COVID-19. And physicians who were trained outside the U.S. may now provide assistance to Illinois-licensed doctors.
Finally, out-of-state doctors and nurses may continue providing telehealth services to Illinois patients if there was a previous medical relationship.
By JOHN O’CONNOR for the Associated Press