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URBANA — As COVID-19 cases continue to soar, the Carle health system has begun taking steps to preserve enough bed space and staffing at its Urbana hospital.

Now underway is the rescheduling of elective procedures that would require an overnight stay in the hospital, according to Carle CEO Dr. James Leonard.

Those elective procedures that can be done on an outpatient basis are still taking place, he said.

So a colonoscopy, for example, “you come get it and go home, right now we’re full steam ahead,” Leonard said.

This action is being taken only for Carle Foundation Hospital and not others in the Carle system, he said.

That’s because that hospital serves as the level-one trauma center for the region, meaning it needs to have enough inpatient capacity not only for COVID-19 patients but for emergency patients being transported there from across the region, Leonard said.

Carle is rescheduling some elective procedures as the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District reported a 40th COVID-19 death and 930 new cases Tuesday for Champaign County.

The same day, Illinois added 12,601 new cases and 97 additional deaths statewide.

Carle Foundation Hospital was caring for 79 COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday and was seeing a surge of need for hospital beds, according to Matt Kolb, Carle’s chief operating officer.

“But because of these steps we’ve taken, we feel we can manage care for COVID and non-COVID patients,” he said.

The extent of COVID-19 spread in the community has had some impact on Carle’s work force, Kolb said, though Carle can also draw on staff resources systemwide as needed.

“We have the staff today to take care of patients, but we have a large system and a number of areas we can draw on,” he said.

As COVID-19 cases have continued to rise, both Carle and OSF HealthCare recently implemented new restrictions on hospital visitors and support people for patients — for Carle at all its locations and for OSF at OSF Sacred Heart Medical Center, Danville.

Visiting policies at OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center, Urbana, remained the same, said OSF spokesman Curtis Squires.

“Please note, this is an evolving situation and changes could be made to the visitor policy in the upcoming days,” he said.

OSF hasn’t made any changes concerning availability of elective procedures at either of the two hospitals, Squires said.

While Carle is caring for dozens more COVID-19 patients in the hospital than it was in the spring, a lower percentage of the more recent COVID-19 patients have been sick enough to be in intensive care, Leonard said.

In the spring, when the number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital was about 20, “of those, 10-15 might be in the ICU, very sick and on a ventilator,” he recalled.

With more like 60-70 COVID-19 patients in the hospital these days, typically five to 10 of them are in intensive care and the rest are on general medical floors, getting such supportive care as fluids and oxygen, Leonard said.

The level of illness of COVID-19 patients in the hospital has likely been impacted by several factors, he said — that coronavirus may have changed a bit over time, that medical providers have learned more about treating the disease and that they have more treatments at their disposal.

Other changes since March: Testing capacity has increased in the community, Carle has enough personal protective equipment for its staff and virtual medical visits have been ramped up, Kolb said.

About a month ago, Carle also began implementing a new strategy for patients with COVID-19 coming to the emergency department or convenient care — sending those patients home to recover when appropriate with daily check-in calls from their providers to monitor how they’re doing and to help ease anxiety, Leonard said.

That policy, since it’s been in effect, has kept more than 100 patients out of the hospital, he said.

Leonard recalled projecting back in the spring that the next COVID-19 surge would hit about Nov. 1.

“I was off by a few weeks or so,” he said.

With projections calling for a vaccine to start becoming available in the spring, Leonard said he hopes people will set aside any fears they may have and seriously consider getting it.

“We’re all in this together, and that vaccination to get us to herd immunity is very important,” he said.

Thanks to the presence of the University of Illinois, this area will also have the storage capacity for the vaccine, he said.

“As these things roll out, we are right in line to bring them to our community and our region,” Leonard said.

Until then, he urged, “we need to be smart about this.”

The message about how to help prevent infections hasn’t changed — masks, social distancing, hand-washing, controlling gatherings and being smart about travel plans, he said.

“We’re inviting the community to really join in the fight against COVID, especially as we wade into the holiday season,” Kolb said.

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