ELDORADO — Egyptian Health Department is sounding the alarm about an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in southeastern Illinois.
“We have had quite the spike in cases in our local communities that we serve,” said Angie Hampton, CEO of the health department that covers Saline, Gallatin and White counties. “The numbers are real,” she added, “and they are concerning to us.”
On July 1, Saline County had reported a total of nine cases since the start of the pandemic. By Wednesday, it had reported 87 cases.
During that same time period, Gallatin County has seen its total case count rise from 2 to 42; and White County’s cases have increased from 5 to 54.
The cases span all age groups, but Hampton said that cases among people in their teens and 20s have grown significantly, as has been the case in other Southern Illinois counties.
As alarming as the climbing case count is, Hampton said that what’s really concerning to her is the sharp increase in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19. Since July 17, there have been 13 residents of Saline, Gallatin and White counties hospitalized, she said. Prior to that, only six people had received inpatient hospital care related to the coronavirus.
Lacey Harms, public information officer for Ferrell Hospital in Eldorado, said the critical access hospital has seen a “significant” increase in recent weeks of people coming in for treatment and testing.
Because of that, the hospital announced Wednesday that it is extending hours at its “respiratory tent” to accommodate more patients. The tent, placed outside the hospital, is used to triage patients who have symptoms related to COVID-19. People wait in their car for their appointments, and then can be tested and seen by a provider at the same time, Harms said. Weekday hours were expanded to 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Weekend hours remain the same: Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Ferrell Hospital also operates a respiratory tent in Carmi, but Harms said hours remain the same there at this time as there has not been the same degree of demand for service there as at the Eldorado facility.
Citing concern over growing cases, Harrisburg recently closed its City Hall to the public. Mayor John McPeek said there’s no timeline on when the government building will reopen, but he thought it was the best decision “until this settles down a little bit.” Water billing staff continue to work in the office, but are taking payments by phone or in-person on a one-on-one basis by meeting customers at the door.
He encouraged everyone in Harrisburg to do their part to slow the spread of the virus, saying that people have gotten a bit lax on following health guidelines and in traveling out of state on summer vacation. “I can’t make you wear a mask, but for your protection and that of the people around you, I think you should wear a mask,” he said.
COVID-19 numbers in Southern Illinois
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On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI