CHICAGO — McCormick Place has been transformed into a field hospital — and it took just five days.
The famous convention center already has about 500 hospital beds, which will be used for non-acute coronavirus patients, and 14 nursing stations. Construction will be complete Friday for the “field medical station.”
The quick buildout at the center’s north and south buildings was made possible because carpenters and others have worked furiously on transforming the building into a hospital, Gov. JB Pritzker said. Besides hospital beds, the facility will have food service and a pharmacy for patients, and it has rooms for medical supplies and housekeeping.
“When I walked into this building and saw how it was transformed in just five days, I was truly flooded with an overwhelming sense of pride and patriotism,” Pritzker said during a Friday press conference at the site.
The facility is bigger than the largest hospital in Illinois, Pritzker said.
And the facility will grow: McCormick Place will have 3,000 hospital hospital beds by the end of the month, adding badly needed hospital capacity to the Chicago area as COVID-19 cases across the state surge.
But the facility is also a reminder of the fast and deadly spread of coronavirus in Illinois, Pritzker said.
So far, there have been 8,904 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois and 210 deaths.
“As incredible as the work that’s been done here is, it’s also profoundly sobering,” Pritzker said. “This is a facility that we stood up because the human population is susceptible to this virus at a scale never before seen in our lifetimes. It very well might be that this [virus] overwhelms our existing hospital capacity in Illinois as it has done in Italy and other countries around the world — and as it’s beginning to do in other parts of our country, too.”
People who become sick with coronavirus will go first to area hospitals and, if their cases are not serious or they are recovering and no longer seriously ill, might get transferred to a hospital bed at McCormick Place. The facility will be managed by health care workers — including ones who are volunteering, some even returning from retirement, to help the state’s battle against coronavirus.
So far, nearly 140 “health care heroes” have joined the staff for the facility, some of them coming from across the country, Pritzker said.
And while the increase in hospital beds will help Illinois, what the state ultimately needs to do to save lives is get people to stay home so fewer people become sick.
The state “must slow the spread of the virus,” Pritzker said Thursday. “If we don’t, there could never be enough hospital capacity to treat all of those who would become ill. Our job … is both to keep our health systems operating within capacity and to keep our residents, especially our older and immunocompromised residents, safe.”
The state and city partnered with the Army Corps of Engineers and Illinois National Guard to create the facility.
• There have been 7,695 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois as of Thursday afternoon. Some of those patients have recovered since testing positive.
• There have been 3,427 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chicago.
• A Chicago Police officer, Marco Di Franco, died from coronavirus. Di Franco — one of the 157 people who have died of coronavirus in Illinois — is the first police officer to die from COVID-19 here.
• More than 200 detained people and Cook County Jail staff have tested positive for coronavirus.
If You Need Help
What’s Happening In Chicago
• All In Illinois: A new campaign — with PSAs from local celebrities — urges Illinoisans to stay at home and encourage neighbors to stay home to prevent spread of coronavirus.
• Undocumented Chicagoans: A new fund that will help laid-off undocumented people is accepting applications.
• Rent and Mortgages: Aldermen are pushing for the state to act now to help renters — but Pritzker has said his hands are tied due to the state’s rent control ban. The state Legislature has to make changes, he said.
The city will give $1,000 grants to 2,000 Chicagoans to help with rent relief. You can apply online.
State officials have also contacted major mortgage lenders, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to ask them to offer multi-month forbearance to Illinoisans.
Pritzker has halted evictions throughout the state during the crisis.
• Clearing the Parks: Some Chicagoans have gone around or even taken down police tape meant to close off lakefront parks after Mayor Lori Lightfoot closed them last week.
Police kicked them out Wednesday.
• CPS: The district will continue giving away free meals, even during what would have been spring break. But some of the giveaway sites are being consolidated.
Students across the state are likely sad to be missing events like prom — or even just hanging out with friends in hallways, Pritzker said, and that’s OK. He encouraged students to feel their emotions — but then find ways to help amid the pandemic.
CPS is sending out 100,000 laptops and tablets to students so they can learn at home, with remote learning set to begin April 13. It could also be a sign schools will stay closed longer than first announced.
• Artists: The city and state have teamed up to create a $4 million relief fund for all types of artists who have been impacted by COVID-19.
• Stay at Home: The state’s stay at home order has been extended through April 30. The order means non-essential businesses are shut down (here’s what remains open) and people are urged to stay home and practice social distancing as much as possible.
Police are issuing citations and fining people up to $500 if they don’t follow the state’s stay at home order. Those who don’t listen to warnings and citations could get arrested.
Chicagoans who have tested positive for coronavirus, or even those who simply have symptoms of coronavirus, are being ordered to stay home or risk up to $500 fines.
• Online Aldermen: The city’s aldermen are using social media to keep up with residents during the outbreak.
• First Responders: The city is offering hotel rooms to first responders so they can safely isolate from their families amid the pandemic.
• Construction: Though New York City has called off construction, it continues throughout Illinois.
• McCormick Place: The convention center is being turned into a hospital for coronavirus patients. About 500 beds are being delivered there this week, and there will be 3,000 hospital beds at McCormick Place by the end of the month.
• Hospital Supplies: Officials are still trying to acquire more personal protective equipment, ventilators and other supplies they’ll need to fight coronavirus. Chicagoans are finding creative ways to get supplies to hospital workers, too.
• Small Businesses: Illinois has created a grant program that will divide $14 million among hotels, bars and restaurants hit hard by the coronavirus. The businesses can use the money for payroll, rent and other things.
• Taxes: Pritzker moved back the state’s tax filing deadline to July 15, matching the federal deadline.
• United Center: The home of the Bulls and Blackhawks is becoming a medical supply and food distribution hub to help with relief efforts.
• Bills and Tickets: Lightfoot said the city would stop booting cars and collecting debt until at least April 30 — but parking tickets from a private company, Chicago Parking Meters LLC, are continuing.
A city program that promised to cut utility bills for low-income residents and families by up to 50 percent and to have past-due balances forgiven has been put on hold.
• National Guard: The Illinois National Guard has been activated, but its troops are working on things like distributing supplies and giving coronavirus tests. Adjutant Gen. Richard Neely tried to dispel rumors about the National Guard’s work.
• Health Care Workers: Doctors, nurses and other health care workers who recently retired or left the profession are being urged to rejoin so they can help in the fight against coronavirus.
Information about “re-enlisting” is available online.
• Protective Equipment: The state needs personal protective equipment for health care workers so they can stay healthy while treating COVID-19 patients. N95 masks, gloves, gowns and other items will be “essential,” Pritkzer said.
Businesses and organizations are being urged to donate their supplies to local hospitals. Those interested in donating items can email PPE.firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Volunteering: Those interested in helping people impacted by COVID-19 can look up community service opportunities on the state’s Serve Illinois site. Pritzker also urged people to go online and look for opportunities to donate or volunteer in their communities.
Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.
Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.
The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The most common symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat, according to Harvard Medical School.
If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.
How To Protect Yourself
The CDC only recommends those are already sick wear facemasks because they help you avoid spreading the virus.
Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:
- The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
- Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
- Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
- Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- If you have to sneeze or cough with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.
What To Do If You Think You’re Sick
Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.
If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where COVID-19 is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus. Anyone who feels unwell has been ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.
Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.
Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.
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