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Johnson County
Community rallies behind families of teens killed, seriously injured in Johnson County crash
  • Updated

The Johnson County community and beyond is rallying behind Southern Illinois families reeling from a fatal early Sunday morning crash that left three teenagers dead and three teenagers in critical condition fighting for their lives in St. Louis hospitals.

The single-vehicle crash happened just after 2:45 a.m. Sunday near Camp Ondessonk in the unincorporated Johnson County community of Ozark. The teens were traveling westbound on Ozark Road near Locust Road when their vehicle ran off the roadway and struck a tree, according to the Illinois State Police.

The driver of the vehicle, Jordan Williamson Davidson, 18, of Goreville, died in the crash, as did 17-year-old Brayden Riley King and 15-year-old Aidan Roger Baker, both of Vienna. Davidson was a senior at Goreville High School, King a junior at Vienna High School and Baker a sophomore at Vienna High School.

The three survivors of the crash remained in critical condition in St. Louis-area hospitals as of Monday evening, according to Vienna High Superintendent Josh Stafford.

Max Koehler, a Vienna High sophomore, is at Barnes-Jewish Hospital; Dylan Harris, also a Vienna High Sophomore, is at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital and Macie Turvold, a Harrisburg student who also has recently attended schools in Massac County, is at Cardinal Glennon.

In the short time since the accident, there have been several prayer vigils in Vienna and Goreville, a fundraiser started to support the families and an outpouring of support across the region. Vienna High and Goreville High held school on Monday, though most of the day was dedicated to helping classmates and close friends of the deceased process their grief. Students created banners to support their families, as well as to show support for the three hospitalized.

Brayden Riley King

Kathy Poole, King’s mother, said she is appreciative of the community outpouring of love. Her son was a Christian, she said, and would want nothing more than for everyone to come together during this difficult time and support one another and “know they are loved, they matter, and they matter to God.”

“I can definitely feel the prayers for the community,” she said. Poole attended two vigils in Vienna on Sunday for the boys, and was headed to another in Goreville Monday night. “They make you feel like people care and people want to be there for you, and it makes a big difference,” she said. Poole said that what she needs most now from the community is their continued prayers. “Pray for us and the other two families who lost people, and the three in the hospital still,” she said. “There’s so many prayer needs and I’m so thankful that Johnson County is a faith-believing community.”

Jordan Williamson Davidson

Steve Webb, superintendent of Goreville High, said Monday was difficult for the high school students who were close to Davidson, a senior student-athlete, and King, who also attended Goreville for a short time before transferring back to Vienna High a few weeks ago.

In a small school like Goreville High, everyone knows one another and classes tend to be tight-knit, said Webb, whose son is also a senior at the school. Counselors were on hand Monday to talk with students and will be all week. “We certainly were not worried about school today,” he said. “We worried about them.”

Goreville Principal Jeri Miller described Davidson as a student with a “great sense of humor and a kind heart.” She said that if she were to get frustrated with him, he had a way of cutting through that feeling with a mischievous grin “that as soon as you’d look at, it was hard to stay upset with him.” The loss of Davidson has hit the senior class of only about 55 students hard, she said, and it has affected many underclassmen, too. “Their emotional well-being is our top priority this week.”

Miller said King, who attended Goreville High for a short period, also left a big impression on his classmates and teachers there. He was kind, outgoing and “loved to put on a show for anybody that would watch.”

Stafford, the Vienna High superintendent, said all of the boys who died were special people.

Aidan Roger Baker 

Baker and King, he said, were both students who could “walk into a room and be very well received by their peers.”

Stafford said it is evident that they touched many lives by the fact that several hundred people came out to the prayer vigil held Sunday evening in the Vienna High gymnasium, despite only having a few hours notice.

“I think one theme I feel like I walk away with myself is that we have an enemy and that enemy is not each other,” Stafford said. “And if you see the response of our students, our students know that. There’s a lot of division in the world right now, but there’s no division in Johnson County right now.”

A service honoring the life of King is scheduled for Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Fellowship Baptist Church Family Life Center, with visitation hours from 3 to 6 p.m. Graveside visitation for Baker will be held Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. at Pleasant Ridge Cemetery, also in Vienna, with a service honoring his life to immediately follow. Arrangements for Davidson had not been released as of Monday evening.

Poole said she wanted to express how grateful she is for the outpouring of support to her family during this time, and to remind people to love each other and remember what is important in life. Her son, she said, loved his siblings fiercely, and also life in general. He had a special gift of putting people at ease. “He would walk into a room and it could be so tense and full of anger, but he could bring a smile and it was contagious. He loved to laugh. His laughter was contagious …

“He was the candle that lit up the room.”

Stafford said many people have reached out asking how they can support the affected families with monetary donations. While donations are being accepted via places designated by families as customary during funeral arrangements, the Vienna High and Goreville schools are also accepting donations.

Any money donated via the schools will be divided between the six families. Donations can be mailed or brought to either Vienna High (Attn: JoCo Strong, 601 North First Street, Vienna, IL 62995) or Goreville High (Attn: JoCo Strong, 201 S Ferne Clyffe Rd, Goreville, IL 62939) with checks being written to Vienna High School. Anyone with questions is encouraged to contact Beth Palmer at and/or Jeri Miller at Online donations can be made at

Online donors are asked to select JoCoStrong and complete the remaining required information.

Barrett confirmed to Supreme Court
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court late Monday by a deeply divided Senate, with Republicans overpowering Democrats to install President Donald Trump's nominee days before the election and secure a likely conservative court majority for years to come.

Trump's choice to fill the vacancy of the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg potentially opens a new era of rulings on abortion, the Affordable Care Act and even his own election. Democrats were unable to stop the outcome, Trump's third justice on the court, as Republicans race to reshape the judiciary.

Barrett is 48, and her lifetime appointment as the 115th justice will solidify the court's rightward tilt.

"This is a momentous day for America," Trump said at a prime-time swearing-in event on the South Lawn at the White House.

Justice Clarence Thomas administered the Constitutional Oath to Barrett before a crowd of about 200. Barrett will be able to participate in the court after taking the judicial oath administered by Chief Justice John Roberts in a private ceremony at the court Tuesday.

Barrett told those gathered that she learned through the "rigorous confirmation" that "it is the job of a judge to resist her policy preferences." She vowed, "I will do my job without any fear or favor."

Monday's vote was the closest high court confirmation ever to a presidential election, and the first in modern times with no support from the minority party. The spiking COVID-19 crisis has hung over the proceedings. Vice President Mike Pence's office said Monday he would not preside at the Senate session unless his tie-breaking vote was needed after Democrats asked him to stay away when his aides tested positive for COVID-19. The vote was 52-48, and Pence's vote was not necessary.

"Voting to confirm this nominee should make every single senator proud," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, fending off "outlandish" criticism in a lengthy speech. During a rare weekend session he declared that Barrett's opponents "won't be able to do much about this for a long time to come."

Pence's presence presiding for the vote would have been expected, showcasing the Republican priority. But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and his leadership team said it would not only violate virus guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "it would also be a violation of common decency and courtesy."

Underscoring the political divide during the pandemic, the Republican senators, most wearing masks, sat in their seats as is tradition for landmark votes, and applauded the outcome, with fist-bumps. Democratic senators were not present, heeding Schumer's advice not to linger in the chamber. Some GOP senators tested positive for the coronavirus following a Rose Garden event with Trump to announce Barrett's nomination last month, but have since returned from quarantine.

Democrats argued for weeks that the vote was being improperly rushed and insisted during an all-night Sunday session it should be up to the winner of the Nov. 3 election to name the nominee.

Speaking near midnight Sunday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called the vote "illegitimate" and "the last gasp of a desperate party."

Several matters are awaiting decision just a week before Election Day, and Barrett could be a decisive vote in Republican appeals of orders extending the deadlines for absentee ballots in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

The justices also are weighing Trump's emergency plea for the court to prevent the Manhattan District Attorney from acquiring his tax returns. On Nov. 10, the court is expected to hear the Trump-backed challenge to the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. Just before the Senate vote began, the court sided with Republicans in refusing to extend the deadline for absentee ballots in Wisconsin.

Trump has said he wanted to swiftly install a ninth justice to resolve election disputes and is hopeful the justices will end the health law known as "Obamacare."

In a statement, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden tied Barrett’s nomination to the court to the Republican effort to pull down the Affordable Care Act. He called her confirmation “rushed and unprecedented” and a stark reminder to Americans that “your vote matters.”

During several days of public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barrett was careful not to disclose how she would rule on any such cases.

She presented herself as a neutral arbiter and suggested, "It's not the law of Amy." But her writings against abortion and a ruling on "Obamacare" show a deeply conservative thinker.

At the start of Trump's presidency, McConnell engineered a Senate rules change to allow confirmation by a majority of the 100 senators, rather than the 60-vote threshold traditionally needed to advance high court nominees over objections. That was an escalation of a rules change Democrats put in place to advance other court and administrative nominees under President Barack Obama.

Only one Republican — Sen. Susan Collins, who is in a tight reelection fight in Maine — voted against the nominee, not over any direct assessment of Barrett. Rather, Collins said, "I do not think it is fair nor consistent to have a Senate confirmation vote prior to the election."

No other Supreme Court justice has been confirmed on a recorded vote with no support from the minority party in at least 150 years, according to information provided by the Senate Historical Office.

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Election 2020 | Jackson County
Candidates seek Jackson County Board seats in 4 contested races
  • Updated

MURPHYSBORO — Nearly a dozen candidates are vying for seats on the Jackson County Board in four contested races. The Southern reached out to the candidates and provided a brief written questionnaire looking at their backgrounds and their reasons for running.

The Jackson County Board, like other county boards, is both the legislative and executive branch of county government, according to a fact sheet by the Illinois Association of County Board Members and Commissioners.

As a legislative body, the board decides on ordinances and resolutions that can apply either to the county as a region, including the cities within it, or specifically to the unincorporated area of the county. As an executive body, it manages the activities of county departments and offices — except those headed by the other elected county officials.

In addition, the board adopts annual budgets for the county, establishes tax rates, and authorizes bond issues, subject to voter approval. They also review zoning, planning and land-use matters and consider appeals in granting or denying certain permits or licenses.

R means the candidate is a member of the Republican party, D means the candidate is a member of the Democratic party and G means the candidate is a member of the Green party.

Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

District 3

Gene Basden II (R)


Political experience: Basden was appointed to the District 3 seat in September 2019 after Steven Bost stepped down. He has also served as a precinct committeeman from 2012-2014 and has volunteered for multiple political campaigns.

Professional background: He holds a bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture from University of Illinois and an Associate in Applied Science in Heating & Air Conditioning from John A. Logan College. While in college, Basden said he worked in retail and the food industry helping develop interpersonal skills, and developed planning and organizational skills while serving as an intern for Illinois’ State 4-H Office. In addition, he was vice president of the University of Illinois student chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects in his senior year of college.

Why should voters elect you?: If elected, Basden said he will “hold the line” on taxes while finding ways to reduce “out-of-control spending” in the county. He pledged to attend every county committee meeting — whether or not he is appointed on the committee — to better understand what is occurring at the county level. In addition, he said he hopes to find ways to bring businesses and residents to Jackson County, expanding the tax base that “ would hopefully lead to an overall reduction of the current tax burden. Basden said his experience demonstrates he is “dependable” and has a “strong focus” on the best interests of the community as a whole. “I want to see Jackson County thrive and I believe I can assist in this,” he said.

Are you involved in any civic groups?: He is currently serving as president of the Murphysboro Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and has been a member of the organization since 2012, previously serving as vice president and secretary. Additionally, he is the vice president of the Historic Liberty Theater Board of Directors, a position he has held since 2016, a member of “Revitalize 62966” — a coalition looking to improve living and entertainment in Murphysboro, where he also served as a co-lead of the “Downtown Revitalization” and “Move it to Murphysboro” committees, and is a member of the Elks Lodge No. 572.

Joshua Hellmann (G)


Political experience: Hellemann was the local party officer of the Shawnee Green Party and was Green Party Precinct Committeeman from 2016-2018.

Professional background: He holds an Associate in Arts from John A. Logan College (2012) where he graduated with honors as a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. He was a courtesy clerk at Murphysboro Kroger from 2015-2017.

Why should voters elect you?: Hellman said his goals would be preserving and improving county services while avoiding tax increases, if possible, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic ramifications of it. He said he would also push county support for the “Solidarity Economy Movement” and other governments in implementing electoral reform, such as ranked choice voting. Looking to the future, he said he wants to ensure Jackson County “makes the most” of the 2024 eclipse and wants to fight for making sure “our country’s air, water and soil are as clean as possible.”

Are you involved in any civic groups?: He is a member of the Southern Illinois Peace Coalition, an organization of activists for peace and social justice that holds vigils once a month among other events. He is also a Skywarn Storm Spotter for the National Weather Service.

Sharon Harris-Johnson*

Harris Johnson

Political experience: Harris-Johnson previously served a term on the Jackson County Board before being elected Jackson County treasurer. She retired as treasurer in 2019.

Professional background: Harris-Johnson’s career has been in public education as a teacher, principal and superintendent. After retiring as Litchfield CUSD 12 superintendent, she taught at Southern Illinois University and worked as a coordinator of online learning at John A. Logan College.

Why should voters elect you?: Harris-Johnson said voters should elect her to office so she can execute her goals of “finding solutions to the fiscal problems facing Jackson County, increasing public safety in such matters as health, clean waterways, and reduction of criminal activity and striving to find ways to reduce taxes.”

Are you involved in any civic groups?: Harris-Johnson is a member of the Rotary, where she previously served as club president. In addition, she has been on the Murphysboro Apple Festival Committee for several years and was the first Hometown Christmas Director in the town. She also sits on her church’s council and has been a Sunday School teacher, children’s director and served on various church committees through the years.

*Harris-Johnson has been running an expansive write-in campaign in the region and thus was offered the opportunity to participate in the questionnaire. She is running after the Democratic candidate in the race dropped out.

District 4

Tamiko “T.C” Mueller (D)


Political experience: Mueller holds a political science degree and currently serves on the Jackson County Board.

Professional Experience: She currently works as a real estate brokerage company owner and as formerly a military officer.

Why should voters elect you?: If re-elected to the board, Mueller said she would work to create more jobs in Jackson County, increase economic growth and development, lower taxes, help small businesses, and increase home ownership.

Are you involved in any civic groups?: Mueller is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Jackson Growth Alliance, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Herrin Women's Club and the Jackson County League of Women Voters. She also serves as a chief local elected official on the Southern Illinois Workforce Development Board.

Rich Whitney (G)


Political experience: Whitney currently is the vice-chair of the Jackson County Mass Transit District and has served on the organization’s district board for about three years. While he has not previously held an elected office, he has run for similar positions several times before, and was the Green Party candidate in the 2006 Illinois gubernatorial race.

Professional background: Whitney worked as a journalist and political activist before attending law school at SIU. From 1997 to 2013, he was in private practice as an attorney — mainly in the areas of civil rights, employment law and criminal defense. Since 2013, Whitney has worked as an appellate defender for the Office of State Appellate Defender, representing disadvantaged clients in their criminal appeals.

Why should voters elect you?: If elected, Whitney said his goals are to help ensure Jackson County continues to provide “vital services” needed by its residents while doing whatever is possible to ”hold the line” on property tax rates. He characterized the goal as “a tough balancing act” because “our dysfunctional state government has local governments between a rock and a hard place.”

He said he wants the county government to look into public banking, participatory budgeting, public-cooperative partnerships and other policies promoted by the solidarity economy movement. In addition, Whitney said county government “needs to be doing more” for environmental protections and improving its recycling services.

Are you involved in any civic groups?: Whitney is a member of Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE), the Peace Coalition of Southern Illinois, WDBX community radio (as a volunteer commentator, DJ and donor), the Stage Company Theater Group, and several national peace organizations, including the United National Antiwar Coalition.

District 5

Darrell Dunham (R)


Political experience: Dunham has previously run twice for the District 5 seat on the Jackson County Board as a Republican candidate.

Professional background: Dunham is currently an attorney based in Carbondale, primarily working in civil litigation. He is also a professor emeritus at the Southern Illinois University School of Law, where he said he previously taught local government law.

Why should voters elect you?: If elected, Dunham said he would advocate for openness, accountability, and transparency within the county board. “I think the citizens of Jackson County have a right to know what’s going on in local government and I think the local government officials should encourage that,” he said, noting that citizens should know what issues the county has to take on.

Additionally, he said Democrats have ruled on the board for roughly 30 years and they “just don’t think the property taxes are a problem.” He claimed if his opponent is re-elected “the people should know that their taxes will go up,” adding the population and property values in Jackson County have gone down.

“If people are satisfied with the status quo in terms of local government then they should vote for my opponent because she really is part of the establishment,” he said. “If they are really looking for a change, they need to vote for me.”

Are you involved in any civic groups?: Dunham serves on the Trinity Christian School board and teaches a class there on a voluntary basis.

Julie Peterson (D)


Political experience: Peterson has served on the Jackson County Board, representing District 5, since 2010. In her time on the board, she has served on most standing committees and currently serves as the chair of the Real Property Committee. She also represents Jackson County on the Greater Egypt Regional Planning and Development Commission, the Southern Illinois Metropolitan Planning Organization, and the Shawnee Resource, Conservation, and Development Area.

Professional background: Peterson recently joined the teacher education program at SIU Carbondale as an instructor after serving in the education field for multiple years. She previously was a Social Studies teacher at Carbondale Community High School, where she was chairperson of the department and served as a representative for Region 6 of the Board of Directors of the Illinois Council for the Social Studies.

Why should voters elect you?: If re-elected, Peterson said she would like to continue in regional economic development as well as supporting multimodal infrastructure planning. In addition, she said she wants to contribute to the spirit of cooperation between the board and the department heads, which has allowed them to “hold the line on spending while maintaining our essential services.”

Are you involved in any civic groups?: She is a member of the Jackson County League of Women Voters board.

District 6

Navreet S. Kang (R)


Political experience: Kang has previously served as the Carbondale Park District Commissioner and on the Carbodale City Council.

Professional background: Kang said he has been a successful business owner for over 32 years, including serving as a district manager for six and a half years in the St. Louis region. He is currently a State Farm Insurance agent in Carbondale.

Why should voters elect you?: He said voters should elect him to the board for “no more taxes,” including reducing property taxes and spending while bringing “more transparency and integrity” to the seat.

Are you involved in any civic groups?: Kang is a Master Mason and member of the Elks Lodge No. 1243 and a member of the Mount Ava Radio Association.

Jessica Edmond (D)


Political experience: Edmond currently serves as the District 6 representative on the Jackson County Board.

Professional background: She holds a Bachelor of Science in Health Administration from SIU Carbondale. “My background is actually in early childhood,” she said. “I have worked most recently as a social service director at a skilled nursing facility and a children's advocate.”

Why should voters elect you?: Edmond said voters should re-elect her to the board to continue “participating in decisions that serve the residents of Jackson County” through local government. If re-elected, she said she would look for ways the county can provide quality services in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.

Are you involved in any civic groups?: She is a member of Illinois Democratic Women, Southern Illinois Democratic Women, Rotary, Women United Network, Carbondale Branch NAACP, Jackson County Medical Reserve Corps, and the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.

Charles Howe (G)


Political experience: While Howe has not been elected to a political office, he said he has petitioned and canvassed for the Green Party since 1999.

Professional background: Howe holds degrees in sociology and international business. He said he has been a blue-collar worker throughout his career, working in everything from repair work with the Illinois Central Railroad to 747 Boeing aircraft inspections.

Why should voters elect you?: Howe said he should be elected to the board so he can work within the county’s budget while trying to maintain the services it provides. In addition, he hopes to maintain property taxes at current levels while finding additional sources of revenue and improving sustainability in Jackson County.

Are you involved in any civic groups?: Howe is currently a member of Carbondale's Sustainability Commission and The Sparrow Coalition, a group working to address issues of homelessness and poverty in Southern Illinois. Previously, he served on the Green Earth board and Neighborhood Co-Op board.

Everything you need to know about the 2020 General Election in Southern Illinois

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Election 2020 | Union County
2 candidates seek seat on Union County Board of Commissioners
  • Updated

JONESBORO — A Republican newcomer is challenging the incumbent Democrat in the race for Union County commissioner.

County commissioners are elected officials who oversee county activities — such as annual budgets and consideration of ordinances — and work on other day-to-day operations of the county, according to the Union County Government website. The office is a six-year term and this race is for one of the five commissioner seats in Union County.

Bobby Toler Jr., the Democrat incumbent from Jonesboro, said voters should re-elect him to the county commissioner’s seat because he brings nearly 40 years working in Union County government to the table.


He holds a degree from Southern Illinois University in parks and recreation. After college, Toler spent seven years working in the Union County Assessor's Office before being elected to the Union County Clerk and Recorder seat for 26 years. He has served as a county commissioner for the last six years.

“I’ve got a lot of experience with county government,” he said. “I've worked with budgets the whole time I was county clerk and the whole time I’ve been a commissioner and I know all of the office holders.”

If re-elected, one of the biggest things Toler said he hopes to tackle is finding ways to offset budgetary concerns that may arise due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “In order to provide the county services, we still need to be able to balance our budget,” he said, adding the county has seen dips in sales tax and gaming revenue, so it's necessary to explore alternative resources to keep the county’s budget balanced.

Toler said while those in county government don’t always agree on everything, he’s been able to work across party lines to act in the best interest of the county. “We don’t always agree on everything, but we work to resolve the issues and make the best decisions for the county,” he said.

In addition to working within county government, Toler represents Union County on the Union-Alexander Joint Emergency System, serves on the Shawnee Development Board, the Southern 5 Planning Commission Board and has previously worked with the Union County Food Pantry.

Darryll Harvell, a Republican from Jonesboro, said he wants to be Union County commissioner because he wants to move the county forward, saying it has been “in stagnant water” way too long.


Harvell is a graduate from Anna-Jonesboro High School, attended two community colleges and currently runs Harvell Disposal and Recycle, a refuse business he’s been dedicated to for nearly 40 years. In his job, he said he often wakes up before sunrise and travels upward of 50,000 miles through the countryside each year throughout Union County providing his services to countless residents.

While he has not yet held an elected political office, Harvell said he has run for a commissioner’s seat twice before. “I almost won once in the primary but didn’t make it, so I figured I’d give it one more go,” he said. “I think we need elected officials that will be more publicly civic minded and try to move the ball forward.”

If elected, Harvell said he would tackle a series of issues in the county such as taxes, infrastructure and commerce. “Union County has lost so many businesses through the years,” he said. “I’ve seen us regress, we’re actually going backwards with the amount of empty houses and high taxes. There’s very few opportunities for our children or our young people, so I want to try to change that.”

Harvell said he would work with state and federal legislators to accomplish a series of projects, such as an investment in infrastructure in Union County and possibly completing an interior levee around Shawnee High School in Grand Tower, protecting it from flooding on the Mississippi River.

On the tax front, Harvell said he hopes to “start pushing back” on Springfield because he believes a lot of the county’s problems stem from the Capitol. He said he would fight for a tax exemption in order to keep residents spending their money in the county instead of driving across the river to Missouri and doing so. “We need to try to keep people locally shopping,” he said, adding that he wants to see the State Pond in Jonesboro revitalized to bring dollars in.

“I think that needs to be repurposed and reopened as a campground for the community (in order) to attract tourism,” he said. He said campers would then spend money at Union County grocery stores and restaurants.

Harvell’s ideas for the county also span into school safety programs partnering with local veterans and pursuing a national bottle bill, encouraging recycling in communities across the country. But, he said, he needs voter support to make his vision happen.

“I can see that unless we change quarterbacks, things aren’t going to change. The scoreboard is going to stay the same and (...) quite frankly, we can do a lot better,” he said. “I think we can put a lot of points on the board, we just need a different attitude and a different quarterback so we can go a different direction and make the people of Union County proud.”

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2 more Illinois regions to see COVID-19 mitigations as pace of hospitalization growth quickens
  • Updated

SPRINGFIELD — Six of the state’s 11 coronavirus mitigation regions will be under escalated restrictions starting Wednesday as hospitalizations for COVID-19 show a quickening rate of increase.

“So no matter where in Illinois you call home, as you go about your daily lives, remember that this is not over,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at his daily COVID-19 briefing in Peoria. “There seems to be a COVID storm on the rise. And we have to get prepared.”

As of Sunday night, there were 2,638 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including 589 in intensive care unit beds and 238 on ventilators — all were once again highs not seen since early to mid-June.

A Capitol News Illinois analysis shows the weekly average hospital bed usage from Monday, Oct. 19 to Sunday, Oct. 25 increased by 495 to a total of 2,488, or roughly 25%, from the previous week. ICU bed usage increased by 118 to a total of 534 on average, an increase of 28 percent from the previous week. Average daily ventilator use increased by 51 from the week prior to 210, a jump of 32%.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we were concerned about overwhelming our hospitals and we must take action now to prevent that possibility,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a news release.

Pritzker’s office on Monday made the announcement that suburban Cook County’s Region 10 will enter Tier 1 of the state’s mitigation protocols after seeing an increase in positivity rate and hospital admissions for eight of the past 10 days. Region 4, which includes the Metro East area on the Missouri border near St. Louis, will see the mitigations after its positivity rate remained above 8% for three days.

Region 4 was previously under added mitigations from Aug. 18 to Oct. 9, while Region 10 is the first to trigger mitigations by a route other than three days above an 8% seven-day average positivity rate.

Southern Illinois' Region 5, which is already under increased mitigations, had a seven-day rolling average positivity rate of 8.8% on Oct. 23, the latest day for which data were available.

The state’s rolling seven-day average test positivity rate hit 6.3% Monday, the highest it’s been since June 2. That’s after IDPH reported an average of 4,984 confirmed cases among an average 70,959 test results reported each day from Saturday through Monday. That made for a three-day positivity rate of 7%, and the 6,161 cases announced for Saturday set the state’s one-day record.

Another 104 COVID-19-positive individuals died over the previous three days, bringing the death toll to 9,522 among 378,985 confirmed cases and more than 7.3 million tests conducted since the pandemic began. Ezike said if the current trends continue, Illinois is on a path to see 11,000 dead from the virus by the end of the year.

While there is a 97% recovery rate — meaning 97% of COVID-19-positivie individuals are alive 42 days after diagnosis, according to IDPH — Pritzker and Ezike said there are often lasting side effects for survivors.

“There are currently more than 2,500 Illinoisans in the hospital fighting this virus, and unfortunately because we now have so many new people getting infected, that number will likely rise over the coming weeks,” Pritzker said. “Many of those people will survive, but many will have lasting damage to their lungs and other internal organs.”

Ezike said all Illinoisans should take care to wash their hands, maintain social distance, wear face coverings and avoid large crowds, doing all of them together to further protect themselves.

“The goal should not be to be lax with getting infected because the chances of survival are good,” Ezike said. “But as we know, it's not clear who will succumb to this virus or not. Yes, it's true that our older members of society, and people with pre-existing conditions are among the higher risk, but we have heard countless stories of individuals, even teenagers, with no known medical conditions that have succumbed to this virus.”

Dr. Michael Cruz, chief operating officer of OSF HealthCare based in Peoria, agreed that OSF doctors had seen “otherwise healthy individuals who have succumbed to this virus.”

“This is the time when we have to double down,” he said. “We need everyone's help to prevent further escalation of this pandemic in our area, and to help us reduce the impact on our health care resources, which are being used fully at this time.”

He said all Illinoisans should get their flu shot to help avoid strain on the system.

Asked about a potential need for field hospitals in the future, Pritzker said “we have the ability, by limiting capacity at certain locations like bars and restaurants, by everybody wearing a mask and so on, to avoid the need for field hospitals, but we've kept warm at least one facility.”

That’s in suburban Cook County, he said.

Ahead of the holiday season, Pritzker said people getting together with family and friends should wear masks and keep 6 feet of distance from each other, even when gathering in private.

While Pritzker has said he is not considering a statewide stay-at-home order, at the current rate of increase to COVID-19 positivity rates, all of the state’s 11 regions could soon be under escalated mitigations.

As of Friday, Oct. 23, the latest IDPH data available, Region 9 in north suburban Lake and McHenry counties had reached an 8.1% positivity rate, meaning two more days at the level would lead to added mitigations.

Region 3 in the Springfield area and several surrounding counties and Region 6 in east-central Illinois were at 7.8%, while Region 11, which includes only Chicago, had a positivity rate of 7.7%. Region 2, which includes Peoria and several surrounding counties, had the lowest positivity rate at 7.2%.

Mitigations in effect in Regions 1, 5, 7 and 8 and soon to be in effect in Regions 4 and 10 include the closure of bars and restaurants to indoor service, and Ezike noted last week that an outdoor structure used by bars or restaurants must be open on at least two sides, otherwise it will be considered an indoor structure. Outdoor service must close at 11 p.m.

Meetings, social events and gatherings both indoor and outdoor will be capped at the lesser of 25 guests or 25 percent of overall room capacity for those under Tier 1 of the mitigation plan, while casinos will close at 11 p.m. and be capped at 25% of capacity. Party buses will not be allowed to operate.

Last week, Ezike said casinos are allowed to open at 25% capacity because they are large, well-ventilated spaces.

Pritzker once again reiterated that the state would enforce mitigations, potentially with revocation of gambling machine or liquor licenses after first issuing citations or dispersal orders.

“Where we know we've got scofflaws, where we know there are bars and restaurants or others who are putting the public in danger, we have asked our state police to go to those areas,” he said.

The mitigations do not apply to schools, which have separate guidance provided by the Illinois State Board of Education, which remains in effect. Districts can choose locally whether students will participate in in-person learning.

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