In just the past three weeks, Evanston-based NorthShore University HealthSystem has gone from only three COVID-19 inpatients to 38, as the virus makes yet another surge locally and across the nation.

“I’m very concerned,” says Dr. Neil Freedman, NorthShore’s Division Head for Pulmonary and Critical Care.

Not only is Freedman concerned for the patients, but also for the doctors, nurses and other hospital employees.

“The staff is really, really tired,” Freedman says. “They’re fatigued and exhausted” from the growing volume of patients, including the sickest ones in intensive care.

Not only are staff members physically tired, Freedman adds, but the mental stress and strain are building up as well, as an illness which had been diminishing is now roaring back.

But at the same time, it’s harder to find nurses. Temporary staffing agencies are sending nurses to very hard hit areas such as Florida and Texas. Plus, Freedman says, “a lot got burned out last year” from treating COVID cases and retired.

The current staff, he says, “is doing double duty,” and “we’re trying to provide them with whatever we can” to lighten the load.

Three weeks ago, only one of NorthShore’s three COVID inpatients was in the ICU. Now, it’s 10 out of 38.

Nearly all of NorthShore’s COVID patients are at Glenbrook Hospital, which was temporarily dedicated to coronavirus cases when the pandemic struck last year. Glenbrook now handles COVID and all other procedures.

A handful of virus patients are also in Evanston Hospital.

Evanston and Cook County are considered “areas of substantial transmission” by the Centers for Disease Control, although the numbers are not as high as the peak volume early in the pandemic.

The City of Evanston now says 79% of Evanston residents 12 and over are fully vaccinated, including 95.5% of those age 65 and over.

While it takes several weeks for test analysis to determine what type of COVID a person has, Freedman says it’s likely most of the new cases are from the Delta variant, “given how fast it spreads.”

In addition to the inpatient increase, Freedman says NorthShore’s immediate care centers are experiencing a huge jump as well. On Tuesday, for example, Freedman says NorthShore’s multiple immediate care facilities saw 900 patients. On a normal day it’s 500.

Immediate care has “set records for the number of people with respiratory symptoms requesting COVID tests,” he adds.

Freedman says patients admitted to the hospital are younger now than what was seen in the first wave last year.

“We’re not seeing 75-85 years old now, because many in that group are vaccinated,” he explains.

Some current patients are in their 30s, although the anticipated bump from older teenagers and young adults who attended the Lollapalooza music festival has not materialized, at least not yet.

In fact, Freedman says, most COVID patients requiring hospitalization are either not vaccinated at all, or are just partially vaccinated. There have been “breakthrough” cases, where a few fully vaccinated individuals contracted the virus. However, Freedman says those patients had some sort of other underlying condition.

“I have not seen anyone in the ICU who has been fully vaccinated” without also having some other underlying medical status, Freedman adds.

COVID-19, he says, is “97% preventable,” if you get the shot.

“The vaccine,” he adds, “does its job.”

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