Tri-County region reporting unprecedented COVID-19 cases, local healthcare systems strained

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – Tri-County COVID-19 cases have reached unprecedented levels during the Omicron surge, putting a strain on local healthcare systems.

Over the course of the last week, the Tri-County region reported 4,777 new COVID-19 cases.

“We have been reporting our numbers in the Tri-County since March 16th of 2020, and we have never been at this value of cases each day,” said Monica Hendrickson, Peoria City/County Health Department administrator.

Leaders with UnityPoint Health-Central Illinois said for the first time since the pandemic hospitalizations at Pekin, Proctor, and Methodist hospitals have exceeded 100 patients.

“This is the worst we’ve seen this pandemic,” said Dr. Keith Knepp, President/CEO of UnityPoint Health-Central Illinois.

In addition to historic numbers of cases, ICU bed availability in the Peoria area has slipped to 11 percent, which is under the state’s 20 percent threshold, but Knepp said that doesn’t show the entire picture.

“That may be the number of beds that are available but we don’t have those beds staffed, many of which are COVID-19 related.

According to Knepp, UnityPoint Health is dealing with a record number of staff illnesses, many of which are COVID.

Bob Anderson, president of OSF Healthcare Saint Francis Medical Center, said medical staffing is also an issue. He said emergency departments at Saint Francis are seeing 200-250 patients a day, 1/3 to 50% of those are patients with worsening COVID-19 like symptoms.

“The result of this increase in numbers means patients are waiting longer to get an inpatient bed, whether that’s waiting in the ED longer, or whether that’s holding in the region,” Anderson said.

Anderson asks the community to take COVID-19 seriously because the pandemic could affect anyone.

“You could have something else happen to you, you might have an accident and need emergent healthcare, you’re going to wait longer now than you would have previously. So even if you’re not a COVID patient, this pandemic will impact you and your ability to get healthcare,” Anderson said.

Health leaders are encouraging the community to help by getting vaccinated, receiving a booster, and wearing a mask.

“Do we ever get to the breaking point? I sure hope not, that we can’t provide a needed service to somebody, but there is a risk for that if the numbers continue to go up and don’t slow down. So we will hope for the best. We’ll continue to be here, but we really ask everybody to do their part,” Knepp said.

Dr. Samer Sader, Chief Medical Officer with UnityPoint Health, added that more than 90% of people that are in the hospital due to COVID-19 were not admitted for a different injury or illness.

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