Since the start of the pandemic, the risk of overrun hospitals has been one of the key reasons given for why Illinoisans should put up with what have been some of the most oppressive COVID policies in the nation. Lockdowns, school closures, remote learning, mask mandates, vaccine mandates and more have been part of the Pritzker administration’s many remedies for, among other goals, ensuring sufficient bed capacity.
But if protecting hospital capacity was a real goal, then one of the big questions today for the governor has to be this one: Why has he let the supply of ICU beds collapse by nearly 1,000 beds since July of 2020?
Total ICU beds, according to the Illinois Department of Health, have collapsed by 25 percent. The state had nearly 4,000 ICU beds in July of 2020. Today, that number has dropped to less than 3,000.
At the onset of the pandemic, I argued on Public Affairs in March of 2020 that beds were the one area where I thought Gov. Pritzker could and should over-invest in. Ensure bed and hospital capacity, but keep the economy and schools open. That was the best way to protect lives and livelihoods.
Instead, we all remember what happened. Pritzker locked down the state despite beds being available. Fast forward to today and fewer ICU beds means, for Gov. Pritzker, the excuse for even more COVID mandates.
Reporters should demand answers from the Pritzker administration and be ready to counter their excuses.
“Staff shortages” is likely to be their biggest defense for the lack of ICU bed capacity. But that response should open a whole new line of inquiry from reporters:
Why wasn’t the administration doing everything it could to increase staffing and bed capacity during periods of less stress on hospitals?
How many federal COVID relief dollars were spent on new staff, emergency training, and fast-track programs?
What amount of Illinois’ $3.6 billion in unused federal COVID support will now go towards increased hospital staffing?
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