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COVID concerns for board of health JDC board of health shows alarm with increase in cases throughout county

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GALENA–The struggles of COVID have increased in recent weeks as case counts near 100 per week.

Sandra Schleicher, public health administrator, and Tracy Bauer, member of the board of health and Midwest Medical Center CEO, addressed concerns with the uptick in cases and the urgency that must be taken by citizens to try to stop this emergency before it is too late at its Nov. 9 board meeting.

Schleicher reported 49 cases to the board over the previous weekend. The following day, on Nov. 10, the county reported its largest single-day total at 73, which includes 40 from the Elizabeth testing site on Friday.

“Our numbers are skyrocketing,” said Schleicher. “We are at over 16 percent as a county (for positivity).”

Schleicher informed the board that the meeting date marked the 16th day in tier two mitigation.

Bauer asked Schleicher about what tier three mitigations would occur.

“There was nothing with changes to restaurants, but it reduces elective medical procedures again and shuts down non-essential retail,” said Schleicher. “It is going to be similar to phase three and would definitely be a challenge since we aren’t getting much compliance with tier two.”

Berlage asked about enforcement and what could be done to have people follow tier two mitigations.

“We can set it, but if it isn’t enforced, we can’t do much,” said Berlage.

Bauer said Midwest Medical Center and the health department need to continue to get the message out to the public.

“We are facing something we never faced in March and April and the bed availability is decreasing,” said Bauer. “The ICU beds in our area are also decreasing.”

Bauer said a patient had to wait three hours for a bed and the closest beds are now almost an hour and a half away.

“These are things that we are going to have to be facing,” said Bauer. “We can’t just transfer an ICU patient to a Dubuque bed because they aren’t available.”

Bauer said Midwest Medical Center had converted a wing of their hospital over and that it is full with COVID patients.

“This is the stuff that people need to hear,” said Bauer.

Bauer said the next concern will be the workforce. She informed the board that she told Schleicher in a recent email that Midwest Medical Center had three employees that were quarantined last Monday, but they had 12 employees out on Nov. 9.

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“You look at that exponential growth and I can’t have 48 people out next Monday,” said Bauer. “This is what we are seeing.”

Board member Lisa Haas, who is also the school nurse for River Ridge, said her district is facing the same staffing concerns as they had to shut down the school because they didn’t have enough staff to cover in-person classrooms.

“We are going on eight months of the same message and people are getting sick of hearing the same message,” said Schleicher as she referenced the Illinois Department of Public Health’s (IDPH) plan to use regular people to deliver the message for mask wearing and other vital recommendations rather than government officials.

“We just need people to care for their neighbor,” said Schleicher. “It is as simple as that.”

Berlage asked Bauer to follow up on her comment about the hospital bed limitations that Midwest Medical Center currently faces.

“We were going to transfer as many COVID patients to Dubuque as we could when this initially started,” said Bauer. “Now they aren’t accepting patients, even if they are to the point that they need ICU beds, they don’t have room. We are assigning consistent nurses that are taking care of those patients rather than other patients. Last week, we had a patient in our ER that needed an ICU and it took us three hours to find one.”

Bauer made an emotional plea to the community and the board about the critical juncture that the community is facing with COVID.

“That is the story the community needs to hear. I know this is hard and I know that it is changing your life, but the reality is if your loved one comes to our hospital and we can’t keep them there,” said Bauer. “We are transferring them to a hospital at least an hour and a half away with no visitors. That is tough. That is very tough.”

Schleicher asked what can be done differently.

Board member Peg Dittmar said officials need to continue to promote the recommendations.

Schleicher said another thing she has noticed is people are hesitant to share who they have been around or where they were more so than earlier on in the pandemic.

“They either choose to omit it or forget about it three days later,” said Schleicher.

“I think what is happening is people don’t want to be responsible for that close contact being off of work for 14 days,” said Bauer. “They just go to the next gathering or go to work and then you get four or five more people exposed.”

The board also discussed the potential of a mask mandate and how such a mandate could be enforced. Schleicher will reach out to State’s Attorney John Hay for his opinion and the possible drafting of an ordinance.

The board also:

•decided to rebid the remaining Elizabeth properties as those that were opened did not meet the minimum set forth by the board.

•set the meeting schedule for 2021.

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