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Doctors say uptick in local COVID-19 hospitalizations fueled by ‘pandemic fatigue’

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — As coronavirus cases rise in our area, hospitalizations have increased as well. It's lead some local doctors to call this a second wave of the pandemic.

The reason? Pandemic fatigue, and doctor's say they're starting to see it everywhere.

"Just look around our community, there's plenty of people not wearing masks," Dr. Stephen Bartlett, the Chief Medical Officer and Vice President at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center, says.

Mike Polizzotto, the Chief Medical Officer at SwedishAmerican, adds, the uptick is fueled by, "all of us not being quite as careful as we have been."

Because of that, they say we're seeing the mark of a second wave. Dr. Bartlett outright called it a second wave. His counterpart at the neighboring hospital took a more analytical approach.

"If you put it on a graph, it's definitely a second peak," Polizzotto explains.

In fact, all three healthcare systems in Rockford, plus FHN in Stephenson County, say they're seeing an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

SwedishAmerican says at its peak in the spring, it saw about 40 COVID-19 patients a day. Thursday morning, Polizzotto says it's about 30, with six in the ICU.

But for both hospitals, this time around it's different because they say they are more prepared. But it's also different because of who is in the hospital.

"The patients are much younger and not as desperately ill as we saw back in April and May," Dr. Bartlett explains.

Polizzotto agrees.

"We're seeing a lot more of what we're calling community spread rather than spread related to congregational living," Polizzotto says.

And that's an important distinction.

But even though their patients are young, Stephenson County's Public Health Administrator was quick to point out most are not children.

"It is not school kids where we have problems," Craig Beintema explains. "The schools are monitored. They have strict policies that protect the students."

Of the 26 new coronavirus cases the Stephenson County Health Department announced on Wednesday, only two were children. The majority came from adults between the ages 25-45.

But all of these health experts say it's not the time to hit the panic button.

However, they agree, the real concern will come this winter as flu season takes off.

Mark Gridley, FHN's President and CEO, called the ensuing battle this upcoming flu season with the coronavirus pandemic "unsettling for medical providers."

"Naturally, people are spending more time inside and also with groups," Gridley explains. "It's harder to do the social distancing and with the holidays on top of that, it would not be surprising to see an increase just given those factors."

That's why all of these health experts say, if you're on the fence about getting a flu shot this year, there has never been a more important year to get one. But in the meantime, the focus is on stopping the spread of COVID-19.

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Richard Bodee

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