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'No longer safe': 1 ICU bed available as Southern Illinois overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases

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SIH Memorial Hospital of Carbondale pictured Sept. 1, 2021.

All signs point to a COVID-19 crisis in Southern Illinois, an area with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state. 

There is one ICU bed available in Region 5, and on Friday, Jackson County reported 1,329 COVID-19 cases for the month of August — the highest monthly total since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. 

All of the Southern Seven Health Department's region remain at warning level as the virus continues to spread, and the Franklin-Williamson Bi-County Health Department reported 132 new cases on Friday. 

The Illinois Department of Public Health's southernmost Region 5 is officially the worst in Illinois as far as ICU bed availability goes, state health data showed Friday.

As of 5 p.m. Friday, IDPH listed a ICU utilization of 99% for Region 5, meaning just one ICU bed was available.  

The Jackson County Health Department on Friday also reported three additional COVID-19-related deaths, bringing the county's total to 89 since the start of the pandemic.

Paula Clark, operations section chief for the Jackson County Health Department, said that for each of these cases, there are typically 6 to 8 close contacts who need to be notified and placed into quarantine. 

“This variant, the Delta variant, is very, very infectious and we really need people to social distance, do not get in large gatherings at all, and when you go out, wear a mask,” Clark said. “(...) Activities that were safe two months ago are no longer safe, that we're in a different place right now than we were in early summer because we have so much infection.”

The influx of cases is placing a strain on the department’s staff, she said. Clark said staff members have been working double time for 18 months — about 60 to 80 hours a week to handle the cases.

“(It) takes an extremely heavy, heavy toll when you have worked with a family for a few weeks during their infection and there's a death or that they've been out of work for two weeks, and now they're trying to pick back up, you know, financially,” Clark said. “It's just a huge strain emotionally on public health workers, but it's also a huge strain on our community and on our economy. And, you know, if we ever really want to get a handle on this, we really need to vaccinate and pull back on some of our activities.”

As of Thursday, SIH, the region's largest health care system, reported 61 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Only 9 of these were fully vaccinated.

In total, 21 are in the ICU and 18 on a ventilator. Of those in the ICU, four are fully vaccinated. Of those on ventilators, three were fully vaccinated.

A release from the Southern Seven Health Department reported:

  • Alexander County had 561 potential new cases (based on 34 positive cases) per 100,000 reported. The test positivity percentage for the county was 11.4% out of 202 tests. ICU availability was 4.5%.
  • Hardin County had 691 potential new cases (based on 27 positive cases) per 100,000 reported. The test positivity percentage for the county was 13.3% out of 316 tests. ICU availability was 4.5%.
  • Johnson County had 803 potential new cases (based on 100 positive cases) per 100,000 reported. The test positivity percentage for the county was 7.3% out of 1366 tests. ICU availability was 4.5%.
  • Massac County had 639 potential new cases (based on 90 positive cases) per 100,000 reported. The test positivity percentage for the county was 14.9% out of 589 tests. ICU availability was 4.5%
  • Pope County had 404 potential new cases (based on 17 positive cases) per 100,000 reported. The test positivity percentage for the county was 11.7% out of 213 tests. ICU availability was 4.5%.
  • Pulaski County had 1080 potential new cases (based on 59 positive cases) per 100,000 reported. The test positivity percentage for the county was 17.7% out of 305 tests. ICU availability was 4.5%.
  • Union County had 297 potential new cases (based on 50 positive cases) per 100,000 reported. The test positivity percentage for the county was 4.3% out of 1,292 tests. ICU availability was 4.5%.

As of Friday, there have been 1,538,324 cases and 24,067 deaths in all of Illinois.

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Reporter

Kallie Cox is a general assignments reporter for The Southern with interests in political science, crime and courts, immigration, and social justice. Kallie is a SIU student and joined the newsroom staff in 2021. kallie.cox@thesouthern.com

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