Evanston-based NorthShore University HealthSystem has seen its number of COVID-19 inpatients double within the last week.

Dr. Neil Freedman, director of pulmonary medicine and critical care at the five-hospital group says there are now 40 COVID patients, including five in intensive care. NorthShore has a hospital in Evanston, however COVID patients are cared for at the system’s Glenbrook Hospital.

Freedman says the patients range in age from their 20s through their 70s and 80s. “Right now we are very concerned,” he says, about the rapid increase in COVID cases.

The number of cases is growing in Illinois, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker closing indoor service for restaurants and bars in several parts of the state. Region 10, suburban Cook County, is not facing those orders yet, but the positivity rate from COVID tests keeps climbing here.

NorthShore is implementing its “COVID resurgence plan,” making sure the necessary protective equipment is in place, and also increasing the number of floor and ICU beds.

At the peak of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, NorthShore had 180 COVID patients, far more than the current patient load. However, there is a major difference. During the previous peak, elective surgeries were cancelled across the state. Hospitals were dealing only with COVID and emergencies. Now that is no longer the case.

“We have a fully running health care system,” says Freedman. “We’re adding COVID patients on top of that.”

There is another challenge as well — the flu. Flu season is almost here, and some flu symptoms are the same as those from the coronavirus, although unlike the flu, COVID is often associated with a loss of smell or taste. Getting a flu shot is critical, the doctor says.

NorthShore has also seen a 10% increase in COVID cases at its immediate care clinics. There is a clinic in Evanston, however, there are also four “Super Sites” which specialize in respiratory symptoms. The closest one is in Skokie.

Freedman says recent studies show that two-thirds of patients who contract COVID know where or from whom they caught it, and frequently it is at a small gathering of family or friends. “There’s a lot of fatigue out there,” he says. People are “letting their guard down,” and thinking just because they know the people they are with, they are safe.

This reality is all the more reason, the doctor says, to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash hands regularly.

There is one more concern, namely, the impact of a second wave of the virus on medical staff. “It will be more difficult this time,” Freedman says, because “it’s hard to keep the adrenaline up.”

“There is a dread amongst staff, absolutely” that cases are going to spike.

Still, Freedman says, there is currently plenty of hospital capacity, and we are “nowhere near close to where we were before,” at least for now.

He says NorthShore has drugs such as remdesivir and steroids to help those who are hospitalized with COVID, plus, he says, “We are at the forefront of multiple clinical trials.”

“We’re prepared for whatever we need to take care of,” he says.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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