New COVID-19 surge threatens to overwhelm local hospital capacity, SwedishAmerican doctor warns

Local News

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — COVID infection rates across northern Illinois continue to increase, as Region 1 rose to 6% on Tuesday. In Winnebago County, the rate is even higher, at 6.8%.

Medical professionals say they are worried the number of cases will continue to climb as children return to school.

“It’s that rate of rise that’s concerning to us,” said Dr. James Cole, Chief Trauma Medical Director at SwedishAmerican. “We’ve had a 500% increase in COVID admissions since three weeks ago.”

Cole says students returning to the classroom could inflate that number.

“I think we’re going to see it more, probably more in the colleges at first, and then, eventually, in the high schools and junior high. I mean, we’re going to see it. It’s just a matter of time,” he said.

Cole says he supports Gov. JB Pritzker’s executive order for mask wearing in schools.

“If we want to prevent unnecessary illness and death, possibly in another human being, it would be the reasonable thing to do is for all humans to wear masks when in close quarters, inside and in crowded situation and so forth,” he said. “I believe in masks.”

Only about 50% of the population is vaccinated against COVID-19, with herd immunity still being a long way off.

Every county in Region 1 has a “substantial level of community transmission,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cole worries that if the trend of hospitalization continues to climb, there won’t be enough resources to treat all patients.

“Hospital capacity, resources, personnel to treat them… Right now, we only have 15 open beds in this whole hospital. We have zero ICU beds open in this hospital,” he said.

At this point, Dr. Cole says there are no children in SwedishAmerican’s ICU due to COVID-19, but he said he worries that could change soon.

Cole also said he encouraged everyone eligible for a vaccine to get it.

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