On Wednesday, deep Southern Illinois was alerted to its first two cases of COVID-19: One in Williamson County and the other in Jackson County.
Southern Illinois Healthcare issued an email and text message alert to employees Wednesday afternoon stating that it had confirmed a positive COVID-19 test for a patient in Williamson County.
The patient was screened through SIH’s COVID-19 hotline and one of its drive-through testing clinics. “The positive test was brought to our attention today,” said the alert email, attributed to Marci Moore-Connelley, chief medical officer at SIH. “The patient is not hospitalized at one of our facilities.”
"The screening and testing process we have in place is working," Moore-Connelley wrote to employees, several of whom shared the alerts with The Southern. "I am confident appropriate precautions were taken to minimize the risk of exposure to other patients and staff. Staff involved in the care of this patient have been notified."
SIH did not immediately return a phone call to The Southern.
About two hours later, Keith Larkin, Jackson County Board chair, told The Southern that a case had been confirmed in Jackson County. He later issued a disaster declaration.
He was matter-of-fact in his advice to the county's residents. "If you can close your business, close it. If you can work from home, do it,” Larkin said, adding that social distancing will be important from here on out.
“This is just the beginning,” he said.
The disaster declaration issued Wednesday night said that it is the policy of Jackson County to be prepared to address any disasters by making resources available to mitigate and minimize risks. The declaration activates the county's emergency response plan, directing local officials to work with state and federal partners to protect the safety of residents and visitors.
In a separate news release, the Jackson County Health Department provided additional, though limited, details about the case. The individual, a female in her 50s, is doing well and is at home in isolation, the release said. This is the first laboratory confirmed positive of COVID-19 in Jackson County. The individual is thought to have been exposed to the novel coronavirus through recent travel to another state. She is required to stay home until she is well and can no longer transmit the disease.
While no further information will be provided on the individual to protect her privacy, the department said public health officials are speaking with people who she may have come into contact with before her diagnosis. Through this investigation, public health may place other individuals on home quarantine if they are determined to have had significant exposure, the department said.
"Such individuals may not be symptomatic, but are quarantined for a period of time which allows symptoms to develop and pass, without posing risk to others," the release said. "If you are contacted by public health officials, please respond promptly."
As the number of cases grow statewide, the health department reasons that the number of confirmed cases in deep Southern Illinois will also escalate. In addition to the virus' rapid transmission, the growth is also attributable to more people being screened and tested.
The health department stressed that everyone should adhere to public health guidance on social distancing, washing hands frequently, disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, and staying home when ill.
COVID-19 shares many symptoms with more common respiratory diseases. If you have a fever, cough or difficulty breathing, call your health care provider for further guidance. In addition, Southern Illinois Healthcare (SIH) has established a 24-hour COVID-19 hotline, which can be reached at 1-844-988-7800.
Clinicians there will answer questions, assess each caller and advise on next steps for evaluation or potential testing.
On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI
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