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'Please wear a mask': Egyptian Health Department, officials want residents to 'operate out of common sense'
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Egyptian Health Department

'Please wear a mask': Egyptian Health Department, officials want residents to 'operate out of common sense'

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Egyptian Health COVID-19 Briefing

Angie Hampton, CEO at the Egyptian Health Department, speaks to community leaders and the press Wednesday about rising COVID-19 cases in Gallatin, White and Saline counties outside of the Egyptian Health Department in Eldorado.

ELDORADO — The Egyptian Health Department and local officials are pleading with the residents of Saline, Gallatin and White counties to follow health guidelines in attempts to help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus within their community as numbers and hospitalizations have quickly started to rise.

“We ask that you please hear our plea to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in our communities,” said Angie Hampton, CEO of the Egyptian Health Department, which covers the three counties. “As we all know, this virus is not operating on any of our timelines and we know that it is going to take a community response, and every single person in every one of our communities, to stop this spread.”

Rising numbers

Gallatin, White and Saline counties were recently designated as “warning” counties by the Illinois Department of Public Health. Counties that fail to meet two or more established targets are placed on the list. The list is updated every Friday, based on data from the prior Sunday through Saturday. Hampton said the department already knows the three counties they cover will be put on the warning list again this week.

On July 1, Gallatin County only had two reported COVID-19 cases. By July 25, it had 35 cases. In the same period, Saline County saw its cases rise from nine cases to 87 and White County saw its cases rise from 5 to 44.

Officials state counties should not exceed the preferred weekly positivity rate of 8%. According to IDPH data, Gallatin County is experiencing a 20% COVID-19 positivity rate, White County is experiencing a 11.1% positivity rate and Saline County is experiencing a 9.5% positivity rate.

Additionally, IDPH looks at cases per capita — the numbers should not meet or exceed 50 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the county. As of the most recent figures by IDPH looking at cases per 100,000 people: Gallatin County has 415 cases per 100,000 people, White County has 146 and Saline has 151. There have been four deaths in the tri-county region in a little over a week, according to health officials.

Hampton said there are multiple factors that contribute to the rise in cases, including a lack of mask wearing throughout the region and recent outbreaks tied to churches. There has been contention within Illinois’ faith community about limiting gatherings at places of worship in attempts to stop the spread of the virus.

Natalie Finnie, the medical provider at the Gallatin County Medical Center, said she understands the faith community’s frustrations, but wearing a mask and following guidelines is for the protection of others in the community. “My faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior is the most important thing in my life and that is the reason why I wear a mask — because I love my brothers and sisters,” she said. “This is not a matter of someone trying to take your faith away, that is not what this is.”

Finnie said it doesn’t matter how the virus crept into the community and folks need to realize “it’s here and people are getting sick and they’re dying.” She said someone that was very close to her died from complications related to COVID-19 yesterday and notes the death toll of the virus doesn’t compare to other viruses out there like the H1N1 influenza strain.

Counties can go back a phase in the Restore Illinois plan, causing more restrictions such as gathering sizes and open businesses, if a region sees three consecutive days of COVID-19 positivity rates averaging 8% or more. Additionally, a region could be pushed back a phase if they experience seven out of 10 days of increasing positivity rates and a sustained seven-day increase in hospital admissions.

COVID challenges

Hampton said Egyptian Health Department has been in contact with IDPH about their increased COVID-19 numbers but indicated further restrictions, or a potential rollback in the three counties, would be up to local officials to determine “at what point is too much too much.”

Egyptian Health COVID-19 Briefing

Angie Hampton, CEO at the Egyptian Health Department, speaks to community leaders and the press Wednesday about rising COVID-19 cases in Gallatin, White and Saline counties outside of the Egyptian Health Department in Eldorado.

In Jackson County, the Carbondale City Council unanimously voted on a mandatory mask ordinance in attempts to get residents to follow health guidelines. Hampton said the department spoke to local mayors and other leaders to determine if it was something they wanted to pursue but came to a decision against the idea. “What we decided to do, due to the enforcement and everything that’s happening, is to really step back away from that,” she said. “It’s already a mandate in Illinois and just to revisit and to make the plea to our communities to do better."

Leslie Ferrell, vice president and chief nursing officer at Harrisburg Medical Center, said they have seen an increase in positive tests and an increase in patients who are “severely sick.” She said the four lives lost in the last 72 hours most likely could have been prevented if the community would take the health recommendations seriously.

Ferrell asked who is going to be there to take care of the community if there is an abundance of cases which could overrun the region’s healthcare and emergency management systems. “I’m not really sure what that looks like and we should never get to the point where we need to find out,” she said. “So my plea is please wear a mask. This is not a time to operate out of fear, this is a time to operate out of common sense and what medical science tells us to do.”

Stopping the spread

In attempts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 further into the community, health officials have developed and provided education efforts on the importance of masking, social distancing and hand washing. Additionally, Hampton said they have notified food service establishments in the three countries that “the agency will be increasing inspections to increase compliance with masking and social distancing.”

Egyptian Health COVID-19 Briefing

Angie Hampton, CEO at the Egyptian Health Department, speaks to community leaders and the press Wednesday about rising COVID-19 cases in Gallatin, White and Saline counties  outside of the Egyptian Health Department in Eldorado.

Hampton said there have been many campaigns throughout the state in attempts to stymie the spread of COVID-19 through wearing masks, washing hands and keeping social distancing but “we’ve been able to prove that it works.” She asks the community to “not get desensitized” by the constant messaging from health officials but take them seriously.

Finnie said there are ways to greatly decrease the transmission and risks posed by COVID-19 virus — especially following the health guidelines put in place by medical professionals.

“When you decrease risks, you decrease the number of people who get (the virus) and the number of people who die from this — it’s that simple,” Finnie said, while asking the community should also stop the politicization of the virus. “The politicization of this virus is literally killing people,” she said. “Let’s stop the nonsense.”

State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, also gave an emotional plea asking the community to take COVID-19 guidelines seriously. The state senator said he hasn’t been able to see his 94-year-old father who resides in a nursing home in Eldorado since March. “By following these guidelines — wear a mask, watch your distance, wash your hands — we’re going to get through this together and that's what it’s going to take,” he said.

Early on there was a push to regionalize the COVID-19 response while some claimed the virus wasn’t present in Southern Illinois but now it is, Fowler said, while adding “it’s getting worse each and every day." The state senator said he is pledging to wear a mask because “that can’t wait” and the day he can go and visit his father will “validate” the fact the community has gotten through the pandemic and “we’ve done it together.

COVID-19 numbers in Southern Illinois

This information will be updated daily with the latest numbers from local health departments in Southern Illinois. The numbers reflect total lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in each county, including deaths and recoveries. These numbers may differ slightly from the county numbers being reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health daily. Local health departments tend to have more current numbers than the state.

County Total cases Deaths Recovered
Alexander 75 1 46
Franklin 539 3 306
Gallatin 77 2 67
Hamilton 71 2 58
Hardin 37 0 30
Jackson 1265 24 1186
Jefferson 612 32 534
Johnson 209 0 115
Massac 105 2 65
Perry 344 16 309
Pope 24 1 15
Pulaski 172 1 136
Randolph 945 11 888
Saline 343 4 196
Union 496 20 388
Williamson 1410 48 751
White 169 1 147

The tri-county area makes up three of the 11 counties who have sounded alarms at the IDPH this last week. The majority of the 11 counties are in Southern Illinois and also include Jackson, Johnson, Perry, Randolph and St. Clair. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently noted the spread of COVID-19 in Southern Illinois is “worse than in Chicago.”

“Rather than a community divided or this being a political issue, we are asking everybody to come together and do the right thing,” Hampton said.

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Brian Munoz is a correspondent for The Southern.

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