Illinois coronavirus: National Guard races to prepare Illinois' first field hospital as COVID-19 cases surge over 5K with 73 deaths

Tuesday, March 31, 2020
National Guard races to prepare McCormick Place as Illinois' first field hospital
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In the war against the virus, increasing the number of hospital beds is a critical front with tens of thousands possibly needed in the coming weeks.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- In the war against the virus, increasing the number of hospital beds is a critical front with tens of thousands possibly needed in the coming weeks.

The National Guard and Army Corps of Engineers are racing to set up Illinois' first field hospital.

McCormick Place, the venue that normally holds some of Chicago's largest events, will soon be transformed into a makeshift hospital.

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb, plans are moving forward to use McCormick Place and two shuttered hospitals as overflow medical facilities.

Officials are working to quickly bring the plan together as the state announced another eight people have died from the virus and 461 new people have tested positive Monday. This comes as Governor JB Pritzker said Illinois will soon more than double the number of coronavirus tests it can administer each day, adding that testing is crucial in fighting the virus here in Illinois.

Coronavirus Illinois Update: Latest news on COVID-19 cases, Chicago area impact

The governor said the need for these new spaces is about being prepared for the anticipated rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, and the first phase is expected to be up and running at McCormick Place later this week.

"Based on best practices around the world on how to manage positive cases and contain this virus, McCormick Place will be dedicated to, mostly to non-acute COVID-19 patients," Gov. Pritzker said. "People whose condition could benefit from the care of medical professionals, but who are not likely to need a formal ICU."

Five hundred hospital beds are now being set up as part of that first phase of transforming McCormick Place into a MASH hospital, which should be ready in a few days.

The transformation project is possible through $75 million of federal resources.

"We want to make sure the next New York knows what its situation is. We're looking at New Orleans; we're looking at Chicago; we're looking at Detroit, and we're want to make sure people are talking to each other so that if they are in a high-risk area, they are taking appropriate precautions, " U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said over the weekend.

The City of Chicago released a statement regarding the project that read:

"The City is working in partnership with the State of Illinois, the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA and MPEA to develop capacity for a large quantity of hospital beds to serve residents in need of care as COVID-19-related hospitalizations are expected to surge in the coming weeks. The temporary health site at McCormick Place will function as a field hospital, providing a large quantity of beds. We remain focused on working in partnership to build up resources and staffing for this site and across the system so that we can combat COVID-19, alleviate added stress to our hospitals and healthcare workers, and ensure patients across Chicago receive the care they need."

A top army Engineer official outlined plans to transform parts of the convention center into three halls.

In the coming weeks the work will continue on the next two phases, which will bring the total capacity of beds to 3,000 by the end of the month.

Metro South Hospital in Blue Island, along with Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, are also being prepped for use to care for patients.

Hospital Beds:

ICU Beds:


An inmate at the Stateville prison is among the eight new COVID-19 deaths reported Monday, and officials say they virus is spreading throughout the facility.

RELATED: Illinois prisoners sick with COVID-19 "overwhelm" Joliet hospital

"There is 12 men who are incarcerated at Stateville who are now hospitalized, several requiring ICU and ventilator support. There are 77 additional individuals who have symptoms, who are being isolated within the faculty," said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. "We also know of 11 staff who have symptoms and are being appropriately isolated."

As Pritzker continues to ramp up the state's testing capabilities, he said they are now able to test 4,000 people daily - which is up from the 2,000 they were restricted to as of last Tuesday.

So far in Illinois, 28,000 people have been tested, but they're currently working to be able to conduct 10,000 tests a day.

Coronavirus testing: Where to get tested for COVID-19 in Illinois, Chicago area

The spike in cases comes days after the state announced the first coronavirus-related death of a child under one year of age in the United States.

On Saturday, health officials reported that a Chicago infant who tested positive for coronavirus has died.

"There has never before been a death associated with COVID-19 in an infant," Dr. Ezike said. "A full investigation is underway to determine the cause of death. We must do everything we can to prevent the spread of this deadly virus. If not to protect ourselves, but to protect those around us."

Governor Pritzker has also called for licensed health care providers available to fight against COVID-19 to register online at

In Monday's coronavirus update, the governor also announced the state has received significant quantities of personal protection equipment, but the promised federal delivery of N-95 masks were instead simply surgical masks - which are not as effective.

The governor said he still has not decided if or when he will extend the state's "stay-at-home" order.

The Illinois Department of Public Health has created a hotline at 1-800-889-3931. More information can be found at the IDPH website and the Chicago Department of Public Health website.