As COVID-19 cases spike in some parts of Southern Illinois, Southern Illinois Healthcare is seeing an increase in patients hospitalized with complications from the coronavirus disease.
As of Friday, there were 17 patients hospitalized in Memorial Hospital of Carbondale's COVID-19 unit, according to Dr. Marci Moore-Connelley, SIH chief medical officer. The week prior, the hospital saw a high of 12 patients.
The number of people seeking tests is also up, as is the percentage of those tests turning up positive. Prior to July, the positivity rate on tests performed by SIH ebbed and flowed but was generally under 3%, Moore-Connelley said. In July, the positivity rate spiked to about 7%, where it has stayed for several weeks.
COVID-19 numbers in Southern Illinois
“I would say that it’s concerning the numbers that we’re seeing in the area, especially for the time of year that we’re in,” she said. “And so, people need to continue to follow those simple guidelines that are out there, which is to wear a mask when you’re out and about, good hand hygiene and hand washing, to not gather in large groups.”
Moore-Connelley said those safety measures “that we’ve been preaching since the beginning of COVID are even more and more important the further we get into this and as we start to get into the fall.”
The Illinois Department of Public Health said Friday that six Southern Illinois counties are among the 30 statewide at a warning level for novel coronavirus disease spread.
They are: Johnson, Perry, Randolph, Union, Williamson and White counties.
A county enters a warning level when two or more COVID-19 risk indicators that measure the amount of COVID-19 increase.
IDPH said that different factors are at play in each county. But some common factors leading to an increase in cases and outbreaks are associated with weddings, large gatherings, long-term care facilities and other congregate settings, travel to neighboring states, bars, and spread among members of the same household who are not isolating at home.
“Cases connected to schools are beginning to be reported,” IDPH said in its weekly news release. “General transmission of the virus in the community is also increasing.”
Also, IDPH said public health officials are observing people not social distancing, gathering in large groups, and not using face coverings. In some counties, local law enforcement and states’ attorneys are not enforcing important mitigation measures like social distancing and the wearing of face coverings, IDPH said.
Williamson County has been at a warning level several times over the past several weeks, since IDPH started issuing the new county-level metric. They are intended to raise local awareness and guide personal and public officials’ decision making. The metrics reflect data from the Sunday to Saturday of the week prior.
During the most recent reporting week, Williamson County saw 240 new cases per 100,000 — well over the state's goal of less than 50 per 100,000. It reported a testing positivity rate of 9.5%.
Carrie Eldridge, director of emergency preparedness for the Franklin-Williamson County Bi-County Health Department, said the agency has recently brought on eight new full-time contact tracers, funded by an IDPH grant. Other employees and, when needed, the agency’s medical reserve corps volunteers are also helping to reach out to people who have been in contact with those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in order to direct them to quarantine. The increased staff, she said, will hopefully go a long way in helping the area “get a handle on this virus.”
Eldridge said that people should be aware that COVID-19 is spreading within the region and take necessary precautions. She said the health department has seen cases rise between its two counties attributable to people attending birthday parties, weddings, outbreaks at long-term care facilities and community spread. “There are a lot of things that contributed to the increase in numbers,” she added. Among them, people are not wearing masks as they should when in public and around others. Though, Eldridge said that the return of school has not shown, to date, to be a contributing factor.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s website, there have been 74 COVID-19 cases associated with three nursing homes: two at Fifth Seasons Assisted Living, 11 at Parkway Manor and 61 at Shawnee Christian Nursing Center. Two residents of Shawnee Christian have died.
Earlier this month, the Bureau of Prisons reported an outbreak at the federal prison in Marion. According to the agency’s website, a total of 136 inmates tested positive and have since recovered. Two inmates who tested positive died. The BOP is reporting no active cases at this time.
Eldridge said the federal prison’s cases were not included in any of the case count reports issued by the local health department.
Bart Millstead, SIH’s chief operating officer, said that although Carbondale Memorial has seen an increase in patients with COVID-19, SIH, at all hospitals across its system, still has plenty of room for patients with any type of health need. Also, the hospital is able to expand its COVID-19 unit if necessary, he said.
“We are accepting, still, all types of patients. We still have room on our COVID unit as well as inpatient beds for other people that have acute care needs,” Millstead said. “We run at a high occupancy most of the year anyway, so this is nothing new for us.”
Millstead and Moore-Connelley are both part of the SIH System Incident Command leadership for the COVID pandemic.
Since the pandemic began and SIH admitted its first patient on March 31, SIH has seen a total of 128 patients who were COVID-19 positive. Their average age was 63, though they ranged in age from 18 to 97. They stayed in the hospital for between one and 32 days, with an average stay being six days. Of the 128 total patients admitted, 20 of them died — two in the emergency room and 18 in the hospital’s COVID-19 unit, which offers an ICU-level of care.
The other Illinois counties reported at a warning level this week are: Bureau, Carroll, Cass, Clinton, Cook, Cumberland, Effingham, Fayette, Greene, Grundy, Henderson, Henry, Jasper, Jersey, Jo Daviess, Madison, Monroe, Morgan, Pike, Sangamon, Shelby, St. Clair, Warren and Will.
On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI
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